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Dogs in ancient China

Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), known in Classical Chinese as quan (Chinese: ; pinyin: quǎn; Wade–Giles: ch'üan), played an important role in ancient Chinese society.

An examination of the genetic evidence by Carles Vila and others confirms that the progenitor of the domestic dog is the wolf (Canis lupus). The suggested date of their domestication is about 100,000 BC. While accepting the wolf as the ancestor, paleontologists and archaeologists believe domestication came much later. A reconstruction by a joint team of researchers from China and Sweden postulates that humans may have domesticated dogs from wolves as recently as 15,000 years ago. They found that, while most dogs share a common gene pool, genetic diversity is highest in East Asia, suggesting dogs have been domesticated there the longest. Genetic research suggests that all domestic dogs worldwide may have originated from possibly three female wolves.

The dog, along with the pig, were the earliest animals domesticated in China. Remains of both animals have been found in the oldest Neolithic settlements of the Yangshao (circa 4000 BC) and Hemudu (circa 5000 BC) cultures. Canine remains similar to the Dingo have been found in some early graves excavated in northern China.

Tests on neolithic dog bones show similarities between dogs from this era and modern-day Japanese dogs, especially the shiba inu.

According to Bruno Schindler, the origin of using dogs as sacrificial animals dates back to a primitive cult in honour of a dog-shaped god of vegetation whose worship later became amalgamated with that of Shang Di, the reigning deity of the Shang pantheon.

Systematic excavation of Shang tombs around Anyang since 1928 have revealed a large number of animal and human sacrifices. There was hardly a tomb or a building consecrated without the sacrifice of a dog. At one site, Xiaotong, the bones of a total of 825 human victims, 15 horses, 10 oxen, 18 sheep and 35 dogs were unearthed. Dogs were usually buried wrapped in reed mats and sometimes in lacquer coffins. Small bells with clappers, called ling (鈴) have sometimes been found attached to the necks of dogs or horses. The fact that alone among domestic animals dogs and horses were buried demonstrates the importance of these two animals to ancient Chinese society. It's reflected in an idiom passed down to modern times: "to serve like a dog or a horse." (犬馬之勞).



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