Existing research states that dogs were domesticated around 14,000 years ago in the Near East, a region that currently encompasses Western Asia. But while dog skulls from such a prehistoric era are rare to come by, the National Museums Scotland has a specimen that harks back to the Neolithic age of Scotland. And the best part is – their Department of Scottish History and Archaeology has reconstructed the 3D head of the 4,500-year old animal, thereby providing us with a glimpse of how domesticated dogs looked like 4,500 years ago. The skull was originally discovered from a Neolithic burial at Cuween Hill in the Orkney Islands, by Scotland’s northeastern coast.
According to the researchers, the dog had the size of a large collie, which comes to more than 2 ft of height, while its morphology resembled that of a European gray wolf. And since we are talking about the visual scope, experts in the field have touched upon several points of divergence between modern domesticated dogs and their ‘older’ cousins. For example, our modern-day canines tend to have more raised foreheads, along with shorter faces with crowded teeth arrangement. Scientists have also noted how modern dogs tend to have smaller brains, shorter tails, lighter coats, and floppy ears when compared to gray wolves.
As for the 3D recreation of this 4,500 year old critter, the researchers mapped the original skull with the help of a CT scanner, which in turn allowed them to print a 3D version of the skull. Then the layers of muscle, skin, and hair were ‘arranged’ on top of the 3D object, based on available data pertaining to average tissue depths in canine (which were certainly harder to come by when compared to humans). The end result, by their own statement, “gives us a fascinating glimpse at this ancient animal”.
Interestingly enough, beyond just the reconstruction itself, the 4,500-year old dog skull also alludes to how Neolithic people treated the animals. In that regard, according to previous research, the dog remains were probably kept in the burial chamber almost 500 years after the original structure was constructed, thus hinting at a ritualistic angle. Steve Farrar, an interpretation manager at Historic Environment Scotland, commented on how the Neolithic folks at the Orkney Islands might have petted and trained dogs to serve as guard dogs and possibly even for herding sheep.
Finally, coming to the history shared between dogs and humans, academics remain divided over whether the domestication was deliberate or accidental. According to the latest study, humans likely valued – and exploited – the tracking and hunting prowess of early dogs much longer than previously thought. Survey of the Shubayqa 6 settlement in the northeastern region of Jordan, for instance, uncovered numerous animal bones dating back to the start of the Neolithic period. This, in turn, points to the possibility that humans and dogs hunted together, ever since the latter’s domestication some 14,000 years ago.