Dingoes and Aboriginal Australians have likely been tight from the start

For over thirty years
now researchers have been
trying to explain changes
in the Australian
archaeological records
from around 5,000-years-
ago, when people suddenly
began using new tools,
eating harder to process
foods, and hunting a wider
array of animals. While
many would like to think
these developments were
the result of increasing
human ingenuity, people
like Jane Balme, an
archaeologist with the
University of Western
Australia, have considered
another possibility right
from the start.
Balme thinks ancient
Aboriginals got a big leg
up, or paw up as it were,
from bonding with another
species that hit the shores
of Australia around the
same time: dingoes.
‘I immediately wondered
whether this diversity was
the result of dingo prey
becoming mixed with
people’s, [then] about the
possibility that the prey
may well result from dingo
hunting but accompanied
by people,’ says Balme.
Aside from some chats
with students, she didn’t
do much with the idea.
That was until people
became more interested in
how dingoes have altered
the landscape, and just
how much Aboriginal
advancement was dingo-
derived.
Balme got in touch with a
fellow archaeologist, Sue
O’Connor from the
Australian National
University, who lives in the
Kimberley region of
Western Australia, a place
where people still use the
dogs to hunt. After a deep-
dive through the literature
available on the
relationship between
humans and the dogs, the
pair has uncovered a lot of
evidence that dingoes and
humans go way back. They concluded that the
first dingoes arrived on the
watercrafts of South East
Asian immigrants, so were
likely already friendly with
humans. Once on land a
few dogs escaped and
became feral, but others
stuck around camp.
Humans continued to
acquire more dingoes by
taking pups from their
dens, but the species was
not domesticated—
undergoing genetic
changes to suit the union
—just tamed.
They also found that both
men and women used the
dogs. Previously it was
thought dingoes weren’t
horribly useful for hunting
because they scared away
large game. While this may
have discouraged men,
‘dogs almost always
accompanied women on
their foraging expeditions
and were often used to
hunt small animals, such
as goanna,’ says Balme.
And female-dingo bonds
were very close; women
sometimes lavished
puppies with care.
The pair cites the presence
of dingoes in Dreaming
stories, ceremonies, songs
and rock art in some parts
of the continent as
evidence of their
importance to Aboriginal
life. The dogs were also a
source of protection
against outsiders and evil
spirits, served as cuddle-
worthy living blankets in
the brutal Australian
outback, beloved pets, and
lended emotional support.
Particularly good or
beloved dogs were even
given special burials.
Blame says this is just the
start of their work. ‘We
really know very little
about the subject,’ she
says, like the precise date
of dingo fossils
While we may have a lot to
learn, one thing’s for sure
—dingoes and humans
have an ancient bond—
which may help explain
why it took Lindy
Chamberlain 32 years to
prove that a dingo did in
fact take her baby. People
simply didn’t buy the
good-natured wild dog
would harm a human
unprovoked.