Where have all the mammoths gone? This is a question that has occupied the minds of archeologists for decades. But a new question has arisen recently related to the great ice age prey animal. That question is, "Where have all the Mammoth Dogs gone?"
Many of us are familiar with various kinds of dogs, bear dogs, coon dogs, squirrel dogs, hog dogs, and the very common bird dog. But the Mammoth Dog is likely the dog that hunted the biggest trophies for his master. It is probably the most rare breed yet discovered in the world of dog breeding. Before all of you dog fanatics rush out to pay big buck for this new exotic breed, hoping to have the newest and rarest status symbol, hold onto your wallets(or purses). It is not for sale, not even for a million bucks!
"Am I not good enough for this special breed?" the elitist dog afficionado may ask. No, it has nothing to do with how special or unspecial you are. The breed is
extinct. But I suspect from how the bones were burried that a Mammoth Dog was indeed a primal status symbol of incalculable value to ice age hunters.
Among some sites of mass Mammoth kills there have been found the remains of a large canine about the size of a wolf. The skulls of these canines resemble a modern husky, yet are larger. One such skull is pictured above(Credit: Anthropos Museum, Brno, the Czech Republic, courtesy of Mietje Germonpre), as is also a stuffed likeness of the same canine. The odd thing is that DNA testing of specimens proves that no known canines share these Mammoth Dog genetics. Thus, this ancient breed has become extinct like the mammoths that it once helped bring down. Or has it? Has every wild dog, and wolf, been genentically tested from every obscure corner of untamed wilderness? Of coarse not. But the enigma of this new disc
overy has created a controversy.
One of the first people, to propose the theory that these dogs helped bag the behemoth prey, was Pat Shipman, professor emerita at Penn State. His theory seems sound to me, but some think it is in the realm of Hollywood fiction. His critics site the fact that modern elephants are so large that they are not hunted with dogs. It is thought by the critics that an elephant would simply squash all hostile dogs into doggy pancakes. But can we be sure that elephants were never hunted in Africa with dogs... ...never!?
Well I take issue with such strained logic, being one that lives in Alaska with large prey, like moose. A moose, like an elephant, is a large prey animal. They often reach weights of 1300-1500 pounds. Yet wolves routinely(and in some parts of Alaska exclusively) prey on moose. I have run across more than one wolf-killed moose carcass. Moose often retreat to my backyard to avoid the wolf pack that hunts nearby. Furthermore it is a common practice to hold moose at bay with Elkhounds in Scandinavia and Russia. To keep this in perspective, a moose can kill a man with one swipe of the hoof to the head. They are able to strike outward, like a boxer, with their front hooves. Occassionally a wolf or dog who is not so agile, gets stomped to death by a moose; such as my neighbor's German Shepherd in a moose confrontation year ago.
The point of my objection is that being able to stomp a canine to death does not keep large animals from being prey to canines. Yes, a pack of wolves by themselves probably could not take down a mammoth. With a gang of men sporting atal-atal darts, a pack of large canines could help bring a mammoth to bay by mere annoyance and nips at the rear legs. It is already established fact that mammoths were killed by atal atal darts(spear sized arrows launched by a hand held lever). The idea of men killing mammoths held at bay by large husky-like canines is well within the realm of the possible. Add that together with the presence of canine remains at these mass mammoth kill sites, the most likely conclusion is... the Mammoth Dog!
It is interesting to ponder why an ice age hunter would bury a dog skull near his hearth with a bone protruding from it's mouth. Furthermore one was found facing South East. This has the feeling of religious ritual about it. It is the Ice Age version of Old Yeller; where at the end the heroic dog has to be put down, making every boy shed a tear while watching. Or it reminds one of, Where The Red Fern Grows, the iconic memory of bygone hunting dogs of American youth.
We can imagine a greatly beloved Mammoth Dog making a fatal mistake while harrassing a cow mammoth, getting stomped to death. Teary eyed Cave Joe craddles the limp canine corpse, carries it back to his mammoth bone hutt and cries like a stone age baby. Like any good country boy he gives the fallen hero a fine burial with full military honors. And the final gesture is to put a tasty reindeer bone in the dead dog's mouth. Every good dog deserves good chow for the afterlife. Nothing has really changed since then, accept the game is smaller, and the hunting dog is most often smaller also.
I often say to my boys, "I wish our ancestors had left some mammoth for us to hunt." A moose is a serious payoff when the shot hits the engine room, but a mammoth... that will fill the freezer!
Archeologists also speculate that the Mammoth Dog was also a pack/draft animal that helped carry the mammoth meat back to camp, and a gaurd dog at the butcher site. Both are not only believable, but have stone age parralells in Inuit culture. Inuits use dogs to track and bay polar bears. Once down, the dogs help haul the harvested bear back to the homesight. In stone age Inuit culture (only a few generations ago) dogs also helped haul the many tons of whale flesh harvested from hunters in skin boats.
Personally I believe that the Inuit is probably the descendant of the bygone mammoth hunters. As the mammoths died off they moved onto other prey; such as polar bears, seals, walrus, cariboo and whales. The lifestyle and climate is so similar that I have a hard time not imagining a connection.
For we modern weekend warriors whose ideal diet is steak and beer without limit, several tons of surplus dead mammoth must have seemed like hunters paradise. Mammoth must have been good food. It was so preferred that archeological evidence suggests that the dogs were fed reindeer, because Cave Joe didn't think reindeer was good enough for human consumption... it was dog food. Now we think of reindeer and cariboo as one of the preferred big game species, and in Alaska reindeer sausage is sold as an exotic delicacy. A moral lesson is in order here, for our ancestors probably overhunted the mammoth to extiction. Now we can't experience that Ice Age thrill of bagging a shaggy elephant larger than it's African cousin. When out hunting with your dogs, hunt with the future in mind, not just the thrill of the moment.