Canine Domestication

It has been suggested that ~14,000 BCE [1] the final transition from wild (Canis lupus) towards domesticated (Canis familiaris) took place in present day China.(Savolainen[2] et al, 2002)

Canis familiaris [3]

AfriCanus in three quarter profile
  • Eurasia
  • Bering Strait
  • Americas
  • Far East
  • Japan
  • South East Asia
  • Australia
  • Middle East

Early Dogs from the Middle East

A man and a puppy are buried together. The human's hand is lying on the little dog
  • Excavation of a Natufian tomb in Israel dated 10,000 BCE. (Davis & Valla, [4] 1978).
  • A man and a puppy are buried together. The human's hand is lying on the little dog. This is a possible indication of an existing affectionate bond.
  • Descendants of such dogs presumably populated Africa.

Archaeological Records of the Earliest Evidence and Dispersal of Canis familiaris in Africa, North of the Equator

Date BCE Region Site Reference Form
4,700 Egypt Nabta Playa Gautier Fossil
4,500 Egypt Merimde Boesneck Fossil
4,000 Egypt Maadi Boesneck Fossil
3,700 Egypt Hierakonpolis Hendrickx Ceramics
3,500 Algeria Magreb Roubet-Carter Rock Art
3,500 Niger Tassili-Hoggar Brentjes Rock Art
3,300 Sudan Kadera Gautier Fossil
1,750 Sudan Kerma Chaix Fossil
1,500 Kenia Central Rift Gifford/Gonzalez  
1,400 Niger In Gall Paris Fossil
250 Niger Jenne-Jeno McIntosch Fossil
Date CE [5]        
350 Senegal Tulel-Fobo Van Neer Fossil
400 Mali Akumbu MacDonald Fossil
map of africa tracing the progress of canis familiaris from North to South

Earliest evidence for Canis familiaris on the African Continent

Migratory route into egypt from the middle east

5th Millennium BCE

  • 4,700 BCE at Nabta Playa (Gautier, personal comment)
  • 4,500 BCE at Merimde Beni Salame (Boessneck [6], 1988)
  • 4,500 BCE at Maadi (Boessneck, 1988)

4th Millennium BCE

  • Extension from the lower river Nile into other Neolithic centers in Northern Africa.
  • Confluence of White and Blue Nile in Nubia (present day Khartoum in Sudan).
  • Mountainous areas in the Sahara (Magreb, Tibesti, Hoggar, Tassili).

Pre-dynastic Tesem

Decoration on pttery showing two slender gaze hounds wearing collars pursuing a hare and an antelope

Two slender gaze hounds wearing collars (top right) are pursuing a hare and an antelope. This is detail from decorated pottery found near Hierakonpolis (Egypt) and dated 3,700 BCE. (Hendrickx [7], 1992)

Pre-dynastic Tesem

Naqada 1 culture pottery showing hounds

Hilzheimer (1926) describes and shows details from pottery associated with the Naqada 1 culture (dated ca. 3,500 BCE) and found near Hierakonpolis.

Pre-dynastic hunting scene

Tesem hunting antelope

Tesem hunting antelope. Tomb Udumu, 1st Dynasty. (Boessneck,1988).

Pre-dynastic brachycephalic dogs

Engravings on an ivory sceptre head found in Hierakonpolis, showing a row of lions and broad-skulled dogs

Engravings on an ivory sceptre head found in Hierakonpolis, showing a row of lions and broad-skulled dogs (Quibell [8], 1900, cited in Osborn and Osbernová, 1998)

Rock art in Sahara mountains.

Cave painting of hunter and dog

Cave rock art:

Hunting scene with dogs. Found in Hill station at Sefar, Tassili-n-Ajjer , Algeria. Dated c. 3,700 BCE. (Méry [9], 1968).

3rd Millennium BCE

From the Sahara into the Sahel

  • According to archaeological records, the dog progressively occupied the present day Sahel zone.
  • Its moving frontier then stopped for about 1,000 years.
  • The Equatorial Forest may have obstructed further migration of Stone Age herdsmen.
Migration through north Africa

4th Millennium BCE: Dogs of Ancient Egypt

Neolithic communities along the lower river Nile joined forces and laid the foundations for the Old Kingdom . The first Pharaoh came to rule in 3,250 BCE. By that time the dog had moved beyond the borders of present day Egypt.

Multiple artistic expressions provide proof that during the successive reigns of the Pharaohs, the aristocracy was in a position to breed dogs selectively.

Artworks indicate that the commoners raised dogs for utilitarian purposes.

Numerous embalmed dogs have been found, indicating that this animal was integral to Ancient Egyptian mythology.

Dogs of the Ancient Egyptian Aristocracy

A sight hound (Tesem) with hanging ears followed by an achondroplastic bitch with pricked ears

A sight hound (Tesem) with hanging ears followed by an achondroplastic bitch with pricked ears. Tomb of Sarenput 1., early 12. dynasty (Boessneck, 1988)

Hunting scene in the desert

Hunting scene in the desert. Tomb Antefoker, 12. dyn. (Boessneck, J., 1988).

Servants at work in the company of Tesem

Servants at work in the company of Tesem. Mus. Kairo Nr 1562, 5. dynasty (Boessneck, 1988)

Ancient Egyptian Dogs

Tomb engraving of common village dog

Common village dog. Gise, tomb, 2184, 5/6 dyn. (Boessneck,1988).

Tomb engraving of dog and goats

Tomb Achethotep 5 dyn. (Boessneck,1988).

Continued at top of next column

Heiroglyph for dog

The hieroglyphic sign for the dog. (Siber [10], 1893 cited in Tschudy, 1923)

Common village dogs as well as selectively bred dogs of the aristocracy flourished throughout Neolithic days and the Bronze- and Iron Ages in Ancient Egypt.

The Bantu Migration

AfriCanis with cattle in a contemporary farm setting

The Early Iron Age Bantu Migration & Expansion

Bantu Herdsman with AfriCanis

The event of the Iron Age in association with political pressure in the North due to Roman occupation, might have urged some Bantu people to look for greener pastures to the South.

The movement started 2,000 years ago from the savanna bordering Cameroon and Nigeria . (Huffman [11], 1997).

Moving south of the Equator

Map showing migration route of the Bantu through the Great Rift Valley

Bantu migration along the Great Rift Valley:

in search of grazing in the southern savanna, and to save their cattle from trypanosoma infection caused by the tsetse fly, they followed tsetse-free corridors.

The Iron Age South of the Equator

Headman curing leopard skin

The sub-equatorial Iron Age is divided into: Early (200 – 1,000 CE) and Late (1,000 – 1,800 CE) Iron Age.

The Early Iron Age introduced the use of iron implements, agriculture, cattle herding and the dog to southern Africa.

The Southern Tip of Africa

Map of Southern Africa

Early Iron Age sites recorded the presence of the dog:

  • 570 CE - Limpopo river-border Botswana.(Plug [12], 2000)
  • 650 CE - lower Thukela river (Van Schalkwyk [13], 1994)
  • 800 CE - Cape St. Francis (Chappel, 1968). This was a Khoisan site suggesting that the Early Iron Age Bantu speakers had made contact with the local population

The Enigma of the Historical Khoikhoi Dog

During the Stone Age, Khoikhoi herders reached the most southern tip of Africa by the beginning of the CE. However, only remains of sheep dating that far back have been found at these sites. Remains of the dog only date back from 800 CE onward, once the Bantu people arrived.

Map of Khoi Khoi Migration Route

Contact with Western Civilization

Illustration of a Khoikhoi family preparing to travel

Portuguese explorers cast anchor at St. Helena Bay in late 1497. Vasco da Gama’s diary refers to the Khoikhoi and domestic dogs in southern Africa: "They have many dogs like those of Portugal which bark as do these."

A Khoikhoi family preparing for travel. Painting by Daniell (1804). (Transvaal Museum Library)

Early Ethnographers

Illustration of Khoi Khoi with dog

Khoikhoi family in the early 1700’s Artist unknown. S.A. Library.

Theal writing on conditions in Southern Africa before 1505, describing the cattle, sheep and dogs of the Khoisan people:

"The only other domestic animal was the dog. He was an ugly creature, his body being shaped like that of a jackal, and the hair on his spine being turned forward; but he was a faithful, serviceable animal of his kind"

Early Travelers

A mouse-grey, ridged and prick-eared dog in   KwaZulu-Natal. Photo Johan Gallant (1995)

A mouse-grey, ridged and prick-eared dog in KwaZulu-Natal. Photo Johan Gallant (1995)

Kollb in 1713 describes the Khoisan dogs:

"They have a small head and a very sharp muzzle. The coat is mouse-grey. They are seldom higher than one el and barely one third longer. The ears are erect and sharp."

Bushman Rock Art

Bushmen hunted for ages without dogs. The practice was introduced with the arrival of the Early Iron Age.

Hunters carrying bows, arrows, quivers and a brush or fly-switch, accompanied by dogs

Hunters carrying bows, arrows, quivers and a brush or fly-switch, accompanied by dogs.

Baboon hunting scene

Baboon hunting scene

Possible Foreign Impact?

The dog arrived in South Africa around the 5th century. By the year 800 it was part of all indigenous communities.

AfriCanus with one ear cocked

Possible foreign impact by:

  • Arab traders (8th century)
  • Eastern seafarers (10th century)
  • Late Iron Age (11th century)
  • Portuguese explorers (15th century)
  • Dutch settlers at the Cape (1652)
  • British settlers (1820)
  • Anglo-Zulu war (1879)

Genetic Relationship

Africanis from  Northern KwaZulu-Natal

Africanis from Northern KwaZulu-Natal

Desert bred Saluqi by Dr.Gail Goodman

Desert bred Saluqi by Dr.Gail Goodman

Blood samples from desert bred Saluqis in the Middle East and Native African Dogs in KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) indicate an ancient genetic relationship between these dogs. (Greyling [14], 2004).

For more information on the genetic diversity and structure in indigenous AfriCanis dogs from southern Africa, click here.

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