How Do You Kill 86 Mammoths? With Dogs.

The new study "How do you kill 86 mammoths? Taphonomic investigations of mammoth megasites" proposes that one possible way for early humans to kill mammoths was with the beginnings of what would become man's best friend.

In the study, anthropologist Pat Shipman investigates makeup of mammoth remain "megasites" — areas with remains number from five into the hundreds — and the two hypotheses for their existence: early humans scavenged the bones of natural deaths or that the hunting of mammoths by humans created the megasites.

The study compared the patterns of the deaths of these mammoths to the patterns found in the deaths of modern elephants. What it found was that the mammoth sites didn't match the patterns for either natural deaths from drought or from human culling of entire herds. Which implied to Shipman that early humans had developed and used some technique for killing mammoths.

However, Shipman notes that none of the sites show signs of humans using tools to kill the mammoths:

No lithic assemblage includes novel tool types that have been suggested to be designed for killing mammoths. Bones show scarce signs of carnivore activity and human modification (usually <5% of the mammoth bones have such evidence). The human modifications take the form of cutmarks, filleting marks, skinning marks, disarticulation marks, fracturing of long bones for marrow, and/or shaping of bones as tools. Some sites also include architectural structures such as mammoth bone huts, refuse dumps or pits, postholes, and hearths. There is no evidence of pit traps or drive lanes.

Therefore, Shipman hypothesizes that there were two things that worked together to make the hunting of mammoths possible: "complex projectile technology" and an "unprecedented alliance between domesticated or partly domesticated canids and humans." In other words: distance weapons and dogs.

Shipman explained in a statement why humans and wolves/dogs working together would help bring down mammoths:

Dogs help hunters find prey faster and more often, and dogs also can surround a large animal and hold it in place by growling and charging while hunters move in. Both of these effects would increase hunting success. Furthermore, large dogs like those identified by Germonpré [at the megasites] either can help carry the prey home or, by guarding the carcass from other carnivores, can make it possible for the hunters to camp at the kill sites.

Point for Team Dog.

Top image by Mauricio Antón/Wikimedia Commons