A skull discovered near the town of Předmostí in the eastern part of the Czech Republic points to the existence of an animal that sits between the evolution of wolves and dogs.
Due to the intactness of the protodog's skull, scientists are able to say with a degree of confidence that the animal ate mostly scraps of meat, more than likely discarded by humans who lived in the region 25,800 years ago.
At the site of the find the team also found wolf teeth. Lead researcher Professor Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas compared these teeth with the teeth of the newly uncovered dog species. He discovered deeper and more extensive scratch marks on the protodog's teeth.
Researchers believe the protodogs not only ate scraps left behind by humans but also hunted small prey such as reindeer, whose bones their jaws could handle. The smoothness and strength of the teeth of the wolves on the other hand, suggest the latter were more capable than the protodogs of devouring larger prey.
According to Prof Ungar these differences may reflect an early divergence of wolf groups, with some stragglers eventually shuffling off the lupine genes to become canine.
“Dental microwear is a behavioral signal that can appear generations before morphological changes are established in a population,” Ungar told The Mail Online. “It shows great promise in using the archaeological record to distinguish protodogs from wolves.”