Posted 2 months ago
By Mark Waghorn
The world’s first hunting dog, which lived 1.8 million years ago and was large enough to fight off sabre-toothed cats, has been unearthed in Eastern Europe.
The huge hound was more than three feet tall, weighed five stone and struck in packs, preying on beasts much bigger than itself including giant deer, elephants, ostriches and horses. It was able to fight off Etruscan wolves and hyenas the size of lions.
It stalked prey in present day Georgia alongside primitive humans that had migrated out of Africa.
Dr Saverio Bartolini-Lucenti, of the University of Florence in Italy, said: "The specimen is the earliest known case of a hunting dog near Europe. It lived 1.77 million years ago alongside early humans found in the same location.”
The creature was identified from fossilised teeth and jaw bones dug up near a medieval church in Dmanisi, Georgia.
Named Canis lycaonoides, it had powerful jaws and big, razor-sharp teeth. The species originated in East Asia and is the ancestor of modern African hunting dogs.
Dr Bartolini-Lucenti said: "The dog's dental features match other highly-carnivorous wild dog-like species from the same era and today. Over 70 percent of their diet is meat."
In particular, it had an enlarged and sharp tooth in the middle of the jaw that shreds food. There was a lack of significant wear, suggesting the dog was a "young but large adult" said Dr Bartolini-Lucenti.
The powerful jaw and teeth used to shred food (Image: Matthew Newby / SWNS)
The excavation site is at the “gateway of Europe” and is one of the most important in the story of human evolution. It was a “carnivore paradise” providing crossroads for a host of prehistoric beasts and early members of the human family.
Dr Bartolini-Lucenti said: "Remains found previously in Dmanisi are the earliest direct evidence of early humans moving out of Africa around 1.8 million years ago."
They were only five foot tall with small bains the size of an ape's. They are believed to have been an early form of Homo erectus. The mysterious group fileted meat from the bones of mammoths and wolves with crude stone tools – and ate it raw. They stalked deer as the animals drank from an ancient lake, and gathered berries and nuts from trees lining nearby rivers.
The hunting dog lived alongside primitive humans (Image: Matthew Newby / SWNS)
The idyllic water rich environment attracted animals like “moths to a flame.”
Sometimes the hominins themselves became the prey, as gnaw marks from big cats or hyenas on fossilised bones testify.
The 10-acre site has yielded the oldest hominin remains outside Africa, including five skulls, 50 skeletal bones and a pelvis.
How they trekked nearly 4,000 miles from sub-Saharan Africa to the Caucasus Mountains, armed only with simple stone flakes, is a mystery.
More than 10,000 animal bones include at least 50 mammal species including rhinoceros, elephants, deer, ostriches and horses.
They would have lived in fear of the ecosystem's fearsome apex predator Acinonyx pardinensis – a giant cheetah. The pack hunting dog described in Scientific Reports would also have been a formidable enemy.
Dr Bartolini-Lucenti said: "Interestingly, its dispersal from Asia to Europe and Africa followed a parallel route to that of hominins, but in the opposite direction. Eurasian hunting dogs became one of the most widespread carnivores in the fossil record."
He added: "Hominins and hunting dogs are the only two Early Pleistocene mammal species with proved altruistic behaviour towards their group members, an issue discussed over more than a century in evolutionary biology."