There was an interesting item on CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks a couple of weeks ago. It was an interview with Dr. Susan Crockford, a faculty member at University of Victoria.
The discussion centered mostly on the discovery of a 33,000 year old skull in Siberia that appears to be an intermediate link between dogs and wolves.
However, during the interview there was some mention about the theory that dogs evolved from wolves that had been attracted to human settlements to scavenge from the refuse heaps.
This theory has been around for some time and was a definite improvement over the previous thinking – that dogs had developed from wolves adopted by humans as pups.
The scavenging wolf theory has some problems of its own, however. First, it assumes that humans had consistent food surpluses of a type (meat) that would be attractive to wolves over long periods of time.
Second, it assumes that the people in those times would tolerate having large predators such as wolves near their campsites. There would be no obvious benefit to the humans and the danger to children and the elderly should be obvious.
An alternate theory might be that mutualism between wolves and humans began in a manner similar to the cooperation documented up until the early 20th Century between killer whales and whalers at Eden in southeastern Australia. There the killer whales would drive baleen whales towards the whalers and help with the killing. They then would share in the meat with the whalers. There’s quite a good article about it in Wikipedia. This mutualism apparently dated back into Aboriginal times, before Europeans arrived.
Such hunting cooperation involving more than one species is not that unusual. Hawks, for instance, occasionally team up with other predators such as badgers or coyotes for hunting. Some have theorized that the birds have an instinctive predilection for such cooperation, something that makes them easy to train for the sport of falconry.
Wolves are good at finding and tracking game but not (surprising as it may seem) very efficient killers, particularly of large game. Human beings, on the other hand, do not have wolves’ sense of smell, etc., but are very good at killing whatever comes into range. It is easy to imagine a pack of wolves discovering that, if they drove game through or even near a human settlement, that animal almost always would be killed – and the humans would share the meat with the wolves. It is also fairly easy to imagine how a long-term cooperative relationship could develop from that.
All this is just speculation, but it’s interesting to think about.