Lake Baikal (Russie): Dogs Were a Prehistoric Woman's Best Friend

Jennifer Viegas

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The paleolithic dog remains resembled a modern Siberian husky, but suggest an animals that was significantly larger. Today, the Siberian husky, Samoyed and Alaskan malamute breeds are all closely related.

Women in a forested area 8,000 years ago were not only in close contact with dogs, but they were also eating the same food the dogs ate and suffering from one or more illnesses the dogs had.

A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science reveals that dogs weren’t just prehistoric man’s best friend. At least some women during the Early Neolithic period, and likely their children too, also lived very canine-centric lives.

It is possible that females were more involved in caring for the dogs -- possibly more often the ones who fed them, organized living quarters for them, and cleaned up after them,” lead author Andrea Waters-Rist told Discovery News.

Waters-Rist, a Leiden University archaeologist, added: “One can envision a camp in the boreal forest with people and dogs living side by side, and dogs being used in many everyday tasks, with dogs being as important to the group as they are to many people today.”

Waters-Rist and her team analyzed remains from two 8,000-year-old cemeteries near Lake Baikal, Siberia. The researchers determined that women from both cemeteries had, at some point in their lives, suffered from a parasitic infection called hydatid disease, or echinococcosis.

It’s been recognized for centuries -- mentioned in ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish texts -- and in modern times it is a relatively common infection in Northern Eurasian reindeer herders who use dogs to help with herding, and in indigenous Alaskan groups reliant on sled dogs,” Waters-Rist explained.

Cysts from the parasites, which look like calcified, egg-like objects, were found in the abdomens of the women. The researchers suspect that the cysts were probably growing in the liver of each person.

Echinococcosis in humans almost always occurs as a result of direct contact with dogs. People can also get it after ingesting food or water that has been contaminated by dog feces that contain the parasitic eggs.