Dogs are a man’s best friend, but a new study found they could have been prehistoric women’s best friends too.
According to a new anthropological research , prehistoric women from the early Neolithic period may have been in contact with canines on a daily basis. These new archaeological findings show that around 8,000 years ago women were not only spending time with dogs, but they were also eating the same food as them and suffered from some of the same illnesses as their canine companions.
The study was performed by Andrea Waters-Rist, an archaeologist at the Leiden University located in the Netherlands, and published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Along with her team of researchers, Waters-Rist examined the remains from two cemeteries in Siberia that were 8,000 years old.
The results of the analysis showed that women from both cemeteries had suffered from hydatid disease (or echinococcosis), a parasitic infection which normally only occurs in humans when they have had direct contact with dogs. Humans can also contract the disease when they ingest food or water which is contaminated with canine feces that contains the parasitic eggs.
Currently, Echinococcosis affects about one million people throughout the world. It is more prevalent in certain parts of South America, Africa, and Asia where it affects about 10% of the population in specific areas.
The number of deaths a year is down to about one thousand, but the cost associated with the disease is still approximately $3 billion a year. It can also affect other animals including horses, pigs, and cows.
The parasites are actually tapeworms of the genus Echinococcus and were much more common before we developed medicine to de-worm dogs and cats, technology to clean and purify water, and began raising our own animals for meat.
However, people are still diagnosed with the disease regularly and the treatment is a very costly surgery. Those who contract the disease can be symptom-free for up to a year, and when symptoms do arise they vary greatly depending upon the location of the cysts.
More from the study
The research team led by Andrea Waters-Rist said that cysts from the parasites look like calcified egg-shaped objects and they were found in the abdomens of the female remains. The team believes that these cysts were growing in prehistoric humans’ livers. Typically, that is where such cysts get their start, and then spread to other organs like the lungs and the brain.
Scientists also believe that prehistoric people valued dogs much like the way we value them today.
“It’s been recognized for centuries – mentioned in ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish texts – and in modern times it is a relatively common infection in Northern Eurasian reindeer herders who use dogs to help with herding, and in indigenous Alaskan groups reliant on sled dogs,” archaeologist Waters-Rist explains.
The fact that canines were important to prehistoric people isn’t news to us, because they were potentially a great asset in hunting and protection – two elements that were crucial to survival. However, a closer relationship between a female and a dog is certainly interesting, and it’s a sure sign that scientists might need to dig deeper into this.
- Andrea L. Waters-Rist et al. Multicomponent analyses of a hydatid cyst from an Early Neolithic hunter–fisher–gatherer from Lake Baikal, Siberia. Journal of Archaeological Science Vol 50, October 2014. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2014.06.015