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The History of the Sharplaninec -Neolithic Era

Even though the Sharplaninec was officially recognized as a pure breed as early as 1939, the history didn't quite begin there. One has to ask, where these first registered sheep dogs themselves really came from? In order to answer that question and to look at the entire history of the Sharplaninec, we have to go further back in time - a lot further back actually. The history of the Sharplaninec is really intertwined with the history of early mankind.

Development of the Proto-Molossers

Modern scientists agree today that the sheep guarding dogs of Macedonia most likely are fundamentally autochthonous to that very region. Thanks to a plethora of archeological discoveries, it could be well established that this part of the world has been inhabited by one of the oldest civilizations of mankind. The Vinca culture (6000 BC – 3000 BC), which stretched over the territories of Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania (and even small parts of Asia Minor), is considered to represent a most advanced agricultural civilization of the Neolithic era. Deep archeological excavation levels of the oldest Vinca settlements reveal both, a life of hunting and fishing as well as agriculture and breeding of domestic animals. It is this intermediary culture that is of the greatest interest – in so many ways. It is also worth mentioning that these first European settlements even precede the cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The cradle of humanity lies not necessarily in movements of nomadic populations (as so many believe) but rather in the emergence of such archaic civilizations as can be found in the Balkans and Mesopotamia. With the emergence of agriculture, the selective regime for dogs has changed forever - it was the birth of the working dog. 

The further back we go in time, the harder obviously it is to establish concrete evidence of those early cultures or their achievements. From an archeological standpoint, it is therefore extraordinarily fortunate that the remains of the Vinca civilization could be found in sizable amounts since their huts were mostly built of wood, which in turn was covered with mud. Nevertheless, their great agricultural skills are reflected in many remnants of cultivated grains, sophisticated tools as well as craftsmanship of artistic artifacts as testimony of their ability (and eagerness) to modify their living environment and livestock in an attempt to better control their physical world. It is very important in this context to point out that the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural civilizations is said to have created a new paradigm for the role of “domesticated” dogs as well. Settlers started to utilize their dogs beyond companions at the hunt as actual farm workers, which consequently changed the requirements for their physique and behavior. Village dogs per se have been around much longer than that, as excavations around the world have unearthed dog remains in Germany (12000BC), Israel (11500BC) and even in America (8500BC). Sheep, pigs and cattle came much later, but once they were farmed in sizable numbers, dogs needed to adapt and assume novel tasks to remain useful to humans. They evolved into the new niche and the respective ecosystem.

When we look at the terrain of the south-eastern Balkan peninsula, one will predominantly find mountainous terrain, reasonably forested and occasionally interrupted by a stretch of moderately leveled fields; all of it surrounded by the Adriatic and Aegean Sea. In short, rough but bountiful conditions with regard to the abundance of food and resources. Ideal conditions for early human settlements, one could say. Even better conditions for the development of extraordinary dogs. People could actually afford to remain more or less in the same location and live of the adjacent land, much unlike nomadic people elsewhere, who were still forced to cover huge areas of steppes in order to find food for themselves or their livestock. The settled livestock farmers would only move their animals vertically into higher pastures in summer and lowlands in winter; they still continued to live in their settlements. This form of fixed transhumance is still practiced today in Macedonia. The key difference to a nomadic lifestyle is the lack of extensive migration, with its severe consequences on livestock and moreover on dogs. Inhabitants of early settlements could actually afford to spend a portion of their energy on improving their "food resources" or "tools" for the future. They could learn from each other, what it takes to produce better offspring etc. Such a setting was crucial in the endeavor to modify dogs for their newly identified role. Genetically speaking, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to establish a particular dog type in an environment of constant fluctuation of the genepool. Particularly for dogs in a nomadic setting. Semi-isolated Neolithic civilizations on the other hand were likely much more capable of breeding and improving their domesticated animals in a controlled fashion. Furthermore, once settled they would have an increased interest in doing so, as they couldn’t just leave and move on when food ran out. Locking-in the genepool was imperative for such undertakings. The aforementioned fixed transhumance in combination with a profuse abundance of large predators in the region eventually yielded large and powerful dogs. These were the proto-molossers that would ultimately influence the entire world of canines.
 

Arx 2007

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