Pat Shipman: “We turned wolves into dogs”

In Pat Shipman’s book, The Invaders (Harvard University Press), she argues that our last close relative, the Neanderthals, were driven to extinction not solely by climate change – though that played its part – but by the incursion of an invasive species: homo sapiens.

We modern humans – the invaders of Pat’s title – completely changed the ecosystem when we arrived in Eurasia between 45 and 50 thousand years ago and made life much tougher for our Neanderthal cousins. One of our critical advantages, Shipman believes, may have been that we domesticated the wolf as a hunting companion much earlier than previously thought, as early as 32,000 years ago.

“I argue that the technical advance that made humans so irresistible and so invasive – from 50,000 years ago until today – was in part their ability to form [an] unprecedented alliance with another species that we call domestication.

We turned wolves into dogs and much later, mouflon into goats, wild aurochs into cattle, wild cats into house cats, and horses into a rapid transit system.

We created for ourselves an ability to borrow the traits of other species and use them to enhance our own survival in almost every habitat on the planet.”

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