According to a study published in Scientific Reports, humans who fed leftover lean meat to wolves during harsh winters may have played a role in the early domestication of dogs towards the end of the last ice age (14,000 to 29,000 years ago).
In order to estimate how much energy humans would have left from the meat of species they might have hunted 14,000 to 29,000 years ago, which were also typical wolf prey, such as horses, elks and deer, Maria Lahtinen and colleagues used simple energy content calculations.
The authors hypothesized that if wolves and humans during harsh winters had hunted the same animals, humans would have killed the wolves instead of domesticating them to reduce competition.
The authors found that all prey species would have provided more protein than humans could consume, except for mustelids such as weasels, resulting in a surplus of lean meat that could be fed to wolves, reducing prey competition.
Although during winters when plant foods were restricted, humans may have relied on an animal-based diet, they were probably not adapted to a pure protein diet and may have preferred high-fat meats to lean, protein-rich meats.
Because wolves can survive on a protein-only diet for months, humans may have fed domestic wolves with surplus lean meat, which may have also kept them company during the harsh winter months.
It may have facilitated coexistence with captive wolves by feeding excess meat to wolves, and the use of domestic wolves as hunting assistants and guards may have promoted the process of domestication to the full domestication of dogs.
Reference: ‘During severe Ice Age winters, excess protein enabled dog domestication’ 7 January 2021, Scientific Reports.