Pre-Neolithic evidence for dog-assisted hunting strategies in Arabia
The function of prehistoric dogs in hunting is not readily visible in the archaeological record; interpretations are thus heavily reliant on ethnographic data and remain controversial. Here we document the earliest evidence for dogs on the Arabian Peninsula from rock art at the sites of Shuwaymis and Jubbah, in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Hunting scenes depicted in the rock art illustrate dog-assisted hunting strategies from the 7th and possibly the 8th millennium BC, predating the spread of pastoralism. Though the depicted dogs are reminiscent of the modern Canaan dog, it remains unclear if they were brought to the Arabian Peninsula from the Levant or represent an independent domestication of dogs from Arabian wolves. A substantial dataset of 147 hunting scenes shows dogs partaking in a range of hunting strategies based on the environment and topography of each site, perhaps minimizing subsistence risk via hunting intensification in areas with extreme seasonal fluctuations. Particularly notable is the inclusion of leashes on some dogs, the earliest known evidence in prehistory. The leashing of dogs not only shows a high level of control over hunting dogs before the onset of the Neolithic, but also that some dogs performed different hunting tasks than others.