Dental microwear as a behavioral proxy for distinguishing between canids at the Upper Paleolithic (Gravettian) site of Předmostí, Czech Republic

Publication date: March 2020

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 115

Author(s): Kari A. Prassack, Josephine DuBois, Martina Lázničková-Galetová, Mietje Germonpré, Peter S. Ungar


Morphological and genetic evidence put dog domestication during the Paleolithic, sometime between 40,000 and 15,000 years ago, with identification of the earliest dogs debated. We predict that these earliest dogs (referred to herein as protodogs), while potentially difficult to distinguish morphologically from wolves, experienced behavioral shifts, including changes in diet. Specifically, protodogs may have consumed more bone and other less desirable scraps within human settlement areas. Here we apply Dental Microwear Texture Analysis (DMTA) to canids from the Gravettian site of Předmostí (approx. 28,500 BP), which were previously assigned to the Paleolithic dog or Pleistocene wolf morphotypes. We test whether these groups separate out significantly by diet-related variation in microwear patterning. Results are consistent with differences in dietary breadth, with the Paleolithic dog morphotype showing evidence of greater durophagy than those assigned to the wolf morphotype. This supports the presence of two morphologically and behaviorally distinct canid types at this middle Upper Paleolithic site. Our primary goal here was to test whether these two morphotypes expressed notable differences in dietary behavior. However, in the context of a major Gravettian settlement, this may also support evidence of early stage dog domestication. Dental microwear is a behavioral signal that may appear generations before morphological changes are established in a population. It shows promise for distinguishing protodogs from wolves in the Pleistocene and domesticated dogs from wolves elsewhere in the archaeological record.