Image of the Day: Protodogs

An analysis of microwear patterns in fossilized canid teeth supports the theory that early dogs and wolves had distinct diets.

Amy Schleunes
Amy Schleunes
Mar 4, 2020
An ancient canid skull holds a bone fragment between its teeth that was likely inserted upon the animal’s death as part of a ritual. The researchers found this skull while searching for specimens for a research project on the differences in dental wear-and-tear between the ancestors of dogs and wolves.
Mietje Germonpré, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

The fossilized teeth of the earliest dogs suggest that they ate bones and other discarded food scraps in areas settled by humans, according to a study published in the March 2020 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. Microwear patterns in canid fossils from the Predmostí site in Czechia that likely represent the ancestors of modern-day dogs and wolves, and date back to roughly 28,500 years ago, support “the presence of two morphologically and behaviorally distinct canid types at this middle Upper Paleolithic site,” the authors write in the paper. 

“Our primary goal was to test whether these two morphotypes expressed notable differences in behavior, based on wear patterns,” says anthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas in a press release. “Dental microwear is a behavioral signal that can appear generations before morphological changes are established in a population, and it shows great promise in using the archaeological record to distinguish protodogs from wolves.”

The protodog’s teeth show larger pock-like features associated with chewing on bones, which results in the surfaces looking like “craters on the moon,” Unger tells The Scientist. The wolf’s teeth show finer scratches associated with slicing meat.
PETER S. UNGAR

K.A. Prassack et al., “Dental microwear as a behavioral proxy for distinguishing between canids at the Upper Paleolithic (Gravettian) site of Predmostí, Czech Republic,” Journal of Archaeological Science, doi:10.1016/j.jas.2020.105092, 2020.

Amy Schleunes is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at aschleunes@the-scientist.com.