Nurturing Animals Shaped Human Evolution | Animal Connection Drove Development of Language and Domestication | LiveScience

By Jeremy Hsu, LiveScience Senior Writer

posted: 02 August 2010 09:43 am ET

Our love of all things furry has deep roots in human evolution and may have even shaped how our ancestors developed language and other tools of civilization.

This 'animal connection' compelled humans to learn about and care for fellow creatures, said Pat Shipman, a paleoanthropologist at Penn State University. She added that the behavior seems highly abnormal for other animals on the rare occasions that, say, captive tigers nurture pigs or vice versa.

'The animal connection runs through the whole [human history] and connects the other big evolutionary leaps, including stone tools, language and domestication,' Shipman explained. 'Instead of being isolated discoveries, there's a theme here. It's very deep and very old.'

Such nurturing behavior also paid off when humans learned to harness animals as living tools rather than just as food or companions, as detailed in the August 2010 issue of the journal Current Anthropology. That allowed people to essentially use the evolutionary advantages of dogs, cats, horses and other animals for themselves.

The seemingly unique human tendency still persists in modern societies – for instance, more U.S. households have pets than have children.

'You see homeless people on the streets with pets, and people in dire circumstances keeping pets,' Shipman told LiveScience. 'That suggests there's something humans get out of it, which is pretty old.'

Sticks, stones and words

Humans may have begun honing the animal connection after they made the leap from prey (think saber-tooth tigers sinking their fangs into our ancestors) to competitive hunter. That change grew from the development of tools and weapons (to defend oneself) starting around 2.6 million years ago.

'Once you undergo that funny ecological transition that hardly any other animal has made, you have double the advantage if you become extremely alert and extremely observant of what other animals are doing, where they are, how they move, how they communicate with each other,' Shipman said.

Next, the need to communicate that knowledge about the behavior of prey animals and other predators drove the development of symbols and language around 200,000 years ago, Shipman suggests.

For evidence, Shipman pointed to the early symbolic representations of prehistoric cave paintings and other artwork that often feature animals in a good amount of detail. By contrast, she added that crucial survival information about making fires and shelters or finding edible plants and water sources was lacking.

'All these things that ought to be important daily information are not there or are there in a really cursory, minority role,' Shipman noted. 'What that conversation is about are animals.'

Of course, much evidence is missing, because 'words don't fossilize,' Shipman said. She added that language may have arisen many times independently and died out before large enough groups of people could keep it alive.

Not just food

The third major evolutionary leap took place around 40,000 years ago, when humans began domesticating animals by selectively breeding them for certain traits. But Shipman believes that the common explanation – humans wanted domesticated animals for food – has the story backwards.

'It takes a very long time to domesticate animals,' Shipman said. 'To actually do it for the motivation of getting food, you'd have to be planning at a ridiculous time depth.'

Besides, killing a deer in the woods gets the same amount of meat as killing a deer in a fenced area, Shipman pointed out. In her view, something else must have driven humans to corral or keep animals in the first place.

Furthermore, the earliest known domesticated animal was not a delicious porker, but man's best friend. Shipman considers humans' strong connection with animals, rather than a desire for food, as the more likely explanation for why people decided to keep dogs around.

'If you look at all the domesticated animals, they often get eaten some time at the end of their life,' Shipman said. 'But they also provide all these renewable resources all their lives.'

Such resources include cow's milk for sustaining babies and adults alike, as well as fur or wool for making clothing or other items. Domesticated animals also have helped humans pull or carry goods. They have revolutionized transportation and exploration, not to mention carried humans into battle and changed the face of warfare.

Evolutionary shortcuts

The animal connection's transformation of formerly wild beasts into living tools gave humans a decisive edge in adapting to new environments and using the evolutionary advantages of animals for themselves.

For instance, humans living in arid regions domesticated hardy camels as reliable mounts and cargo-carriers that could survive long periods without water. In other words, humans gained an evolutionary shortcut, Shipman said.

'If you have a dog that can hunt, you don't need to turn into a fast-moving animal with sharp teeth,' Shipman said. 'If you're storing grains [known to attract rodents], you don't need to evolve claws and an intense focus to kill rats, [because] you have cats that do it for you.'

Shipman eventually hopes to explore her hypothesis in a book. Until then, she continues to look for more prehistoric evidence.

She also admits that some people simply don't harbor any real affection for animals, which makes sense given natural variability in populations. But the widespread nurturing of animals across practically all cultures suggests something powerful cultivated the animal connection.

'People who are really devoted to pets or raise livestock, a lot of them get this deep in their bones,' Shipman said.

Prehistoric Cemetery Reveals Man and Fox Were Pals

 By Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor
posted: 03 February 2011 11:48 am ET

Before dog was man's best friend, we might have kept foxes as pets, even bringing them with us into our graves, scientists now say.
This discovery, made in a prehistoric cemetery in the Middle East, could shed light on the nature and timing of newly developing relationships between people and beasts before animals were first domesticated. It also hints that key aspects of ancient practices surrounding death might have originated earlier than before thought.
The ancient graveyard known as 'Uyun al-Hammam, or "spring of the pigeon," was discovered in the small river valley of Wadi Ziqlab in northern Jordan in 2000 and named after a nearby freshwater spring. The burial ground is about 16,500 years old, meaning it dates back to just before the emergence of the Natufian culture, in which pioneers used wild cereals (such as wheat, barley and oats) in a practice that would eventually evolve into true farming. These communities dwelled 11,600 to 14,500 years ago in the Levant, the area that today includes Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The Natufian culture was known to bury people with dogs. One case discovered in past excavations in the area involved a woman buried with her hand on a puppy, while another included three humans buried with two dogs along with tortoise shells. However, the new discovery at 'Uyun al-Hammam shows that some of these practices took place earlier with a different doglike animal, the fox.

At least 11 people were buried at the site in Jordan, most of whom were found with artifacts such as stone tools, a bone spoon and bone dagger, and red ochre, an iron mineral. One grave held the skull and upper right arm bone of a red fox, with red ochre stuck on its skull, along with bones of deer, gazelle, tortoises and wild cattle. A neighboring grave with human remains also contained the nearly complete skeleton of a red fox, missing its skull and upper right arm bone, suggesting that a single fox had parts of it moved from one grave to another in prehistoric times.
"What we appear to have found is a case where a fox was killed and buried with its owner," said researcher Lisa Maher, a prehistoric archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in England. "Later, the grave was reopened for some reason and the human's body was moved, but because the link between the fox and the human had been significant, the fox was moved as well."
The fact that the fox was reburied with the human could mean the animal was once seen as a companion. The researchers suggest its bones may have been moved so the dead person would continue to have the fox as a comrade in the afterlife.
"The fox was treated in a special way from any other animals at the site," Maher told LiveScience. "We think that this represents a significant social relationship, something that clearly goes far beyond the domestication of animals as livestock."
Although foxes are relatively easy to tame, domesticating them might have failed because of their skittish and timid nature. This might explain why dogs ultimately achieved "man's best friend" status instead. However, fox symbolism and fox remains are quite common in later Stone Age sites, both in domestic and burial contexts, "so even when other animals were domesticated, prehistoric people maintained an interest in the fox," Maher said.
The graves at the Jordan site do contain the remains of other kinds of animals, so "we can only take the fox-dog analogy so far," said researcher Edward Banning at the University of Toronto.
The notion that foxes served as pets happens to fit with modern preconceptions about human-dog relationships, and is just one possible explanation among many — for instance, it could have had some spiritual meaning instead, Maher said. Also, foxes did not always receive special treatment — other fox bones at the site bore signs of butchery and cooking, suggesting they were eaten for meat.
In any case, the findings reveal these burial practices and even the use of cemeteries go back further in time than previously thought.
"The repeated use of a particular location for the burial of the dead suggests that the people had a special connection to this site," Maher said. "Perhaps having a nearby place to return to and visit your ancestors or loved ones was as important in prehistory as it is in many cultures today."
The scientists detailed their findings in the Jan. 26 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.


Dept of State issues Worldwide Caution for U. S. Citizens anywhere

Dept of State issues Worldwide Caution for U. S. Citizens anywhere: "This information is current as of today, Tue Feb 01 2011 15:00:51 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time). Tue Feb 01 16:59:10 2011.

The Department of State has issued this Worldwide Caution to update information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world.

U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. This replaces the Worldwide Caution dated August 12, 2010, to provide updated information on security threats and terrorist activities worldwide.

The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. U.S. citizens are reminded that demonstrations and rioting can occur with little or no warning. Current information suggests that Al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings.

Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, and locales where U.S. citizens gather in large numbers, including during holidays.

U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Extremists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. In the past several years, these types of attacks have occurred in cities such as Moscow, London, Madrid, and Glasgow.

Current information suggests that Al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. and Western interests in Europe. European governments have taken action to guard against terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions. In the past several years, attacks have been planned or occurred in various European cities.

Credible information indicates terrorist groups also seek to continue attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa. For example, Iraq remains dangerous and unpredictable. Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue. Methods of attack have included roadside improvised explosive devices, mortars, and shootings; kidnappings still occur as well. Security threat levels remain high in Yemen due to terrorist activities there. The U.S. Embassy has had to close several times in response to ongoing threats by Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). U.S. citizens as well as other Westerners have been targeted for attack in Yemen. U.S. citizens have also been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past (though none recently) and the threat of anti-Western terrorist activity continues to exist there. In Algeria, terrorist attacks occur regularly, particularly in the Kabylie region of the country. In the past, terrorists have targeted oil processing facilities in both Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

A number of Al-Qaida operatives and other extremists are believed to be operating in and around Africa. Since the July 11, 2010, terrorist bombings in Kampala, Uganda, for which the Somalia-based, U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility, there have been increased threats against public areas across East Africa. The terrorist attacks of August and September 2010 against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union (AU) peacekeeping forces in Somalia, as well as the bombing of hotels and minibuses in Somalia, highlight the vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks in East Africa and around the world. Additionally, the terrorist group, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has declared its intention to attack Western targets throughout the Sahel (which includes Mali, Mauritania, and Niger), and has claimed responsibility for kidnappings, attempted kidnappings, and the murder of several Westerners.

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