THE ORIGINS OF THE AFGHAN HOUND
(Author Steve Tillotson, a work in progress 3/30/2010)
2.) ORIGINS REMAIN UNANSWERED
The task of identifying our breeds origin remains unanswered. At this stage we have aspired to pull together into one section the various historic and interesting writings on the subject.
Remember on page 1 we explained that Evelyn Denyer wrote in 1925 "The ancestery of the Afghan Hound cannot be traced". And in response I wrote "Well that last quotation is a bit daunting to someone seeking to write about the origins of The Afghan Hound".
Well. I think Miss Denyer was correct in 1925 because way back then they didn't have the science and archeological tools we have today. Whilst the origins are still unknown, I ultmately believe the origins will be discovered, and I believe DNA is the key.
There are however a number of issues arising from this research that I think it would be helpful to discuss
2.1 FAIRY TALES AND LEGENDS
Why would a pioneering person, founding member of the breed, spread fairy tales and legends? The answer "marketing". If you have read the various breed books you will be familiar with the heated discussions in the press between the Ghazni (Mrs Amps) and Bell Murray (Ms Manson and others) camps in the early 1920's. The two camps imported Afghan Hounds from Afghanistan, but they might as well have imported two different breeds from two different parts of the world for all the lack of common ground between them. The Ghazni camp argued their type was the only "true" type, the Bell Murray camp arguing precisely the same thing, and never the twin shall meet. Both camps were pioneers in establishing the Afghan Hound in the western world. The Afghan Hound is an exciting and exotic breed and surely excited the dog fancy as much in the 1920's as it does today. My conjecture is simply this, in order to help get this new breed established in the western world, the pioneers (both camps) embellished the origins and history of the breed with fairy tales, such as single handedly taking down a leopard, standing guard on the corners of a fort like trained soldiers, the oldest dog in the world etc and just about every hound being descended from the Afghan Hound. All this "marketing" added to the exocticness of the breed, fired up others imaginations, all part of the effort to promote interest in a new breed, get it established and accepted by the fancy, and accepted by National Kennel Club Registration Authorities. Oh yes, also, possibly, to create a market for their stock, over which they had a virtual monopoly in those early pioneering days
It's easy for me to critize with the benefit of hindsight and a later period knowledge. However, this marketing nonsense has also been perpetuated in relatively modern times by writers and authors who really should have known better. If you have read all of the preceeding pages, you will now see where some of these fairy tales eminated from (The Denyer article for example, but there are other early fairy tale sources too). Whilst it makes for a colourful story, and as such may aid a book sale if the stories are perpetuated, it really does distract from the more important goal of establishing and understanding from whence our breed came.
A couple of comments on the Denyer article, seeing as it is referenced indirectly by many of our breed authors. Did you note the apparent deliberate ambiguity in her use of references, such as - "According to an authority", "Another author states", "Claimed by some historians". Denyer never states a name for these authorities, authors or historians. My conjecture is that this is probably because these entities were in fact Denyer hersself. I believe she tried to add weight and credence to her viewpoint by referencing supposed other authorities - as I said previously, its "marketing". My final comment on the Denyer article is this. Denyer mentions the hunting prowess of the Afghan Hound - "the dog trained to tackle the throat, the bitches trained to tackle the hindquarters, bringing down a leopard single handed etc". Then Denyer goes on to state "it is a rare thing to find any trace of savagery in an Afghan and I do not think such traits have ever been known in their contact with human beings or other members of the canine race". On the one hand these are savage beasts, on the other hand they are ideal family pets. We know from our modern knowledge that Denyers statement is simply not true. Some of the early hounds displayed an unwelcome temprement, which nowadays has largely been bred out of the breed. Denyer was obviously trying to promote the hunting prowess of this (at the time) unknown breed, whilst also promoting them as ideal family companions.
2.2 ESTABLISHING THE ORIGINS IN THE FUTURE
I found a very interesting article in The National Geographic Magazine dated January 2002 issue which is entitled "Wolf to Woof - the evolution of dogs".
The article starts of by explaining that less than 14,000 years separates the wolf (the dogs ancestor) and the Maltese (one of hundreds of breeds of todays Canis Familiaris). The article states that about 12,000 years ago hunter gatherers in what is now Israel placed a body in a grave with its hand cradling a pup. Whether it was a dog or a wolf can't be known. Either way, the burial is among the earliest fossil evidence of the dog's domestication. Scientists know the process was under way by about 14,000 years ago, but do not agree on why.
The article includes some computer graphics based on CT scans of wolf and dog bones. The scans show the bones of the Gray Wolf, Great Dane, Dachshund and Pomeranian. The article states "The graphs show how the skeleton of the wolf has been manipulated - without losing a single bone". A very striking and revealing set of graphs. I have written to the publisher to request permission to reproduce the entire article on this website.
What now then of Miss Denyer's statement in 1925 "He possesses no kinship to the first wild dogs, for they were nothing more or less than wolves."
What now then of Jackson Stanford's reported statement "The Afghan, or its immediate ancestor inhabited the steppes of central Asia no less than 100,000 years ago"
I have endeavoured to at least mitigate the embellishments by the pioneers in the breed, I think they had a clear agenda, and to some extent a worthy one (help promote a new breed, get it established, get it accepted) . I am less enamoured with the writings attributed to scientists and historians. Similarly, I am less enamoured with breed book writers who have perpetuated this fairy tale nonsense. Our breed is sufficiently exciting and exoctic without the need to perpetuate this stuff, or at least clearly articulate that it is what it is - Fairy Tales
I am sure we all look forward one day, hopefully in the not too distant future, to learning via DNA the true origins of our breed and the possible relationships between The Afghan Hound and other breeds such as the Saluki, Greyhound etc.
Steve Tillotson, March 2010
Early Afghan Hounds
Hyland Afghan Painting
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