For a long time, researchers have been intrigued by giant mammoth graveyards. Though humans were known to have hunted mammoths for more than a million years prior, major mammoth graveyards don't begin appearing on the geologic timeline until somewhere between 45,000 and 15,000 years ago.
And they begin appearing in great numbers. But why? And how?
"One of the greatest puzzles about these sites is how such large numbers of mammoths could have been killed with the weapons available during that time," said Penn State Professor Emerita Pat Shipman.
The answer, Shipman and other scientists say, is dogs.
"Dogs help hunters find prey faster and more often, and dogs 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," explained Shipman, whose new study on the mammoth graveyard mystery was published this week in Quaternary International.
Shipman says more research is needed, but that archaeologists have found large dogs at some of the mammoth grave sites.
"If more of these distinctive doglike canids are found at large, long-term sites with unusually high numbers of dead mammoths and wolves, if the canids are consistently large, strong individuals; and if their diets differ from those of wolves," she said, "dogs may indeed be man's best friend."