The History of the Armenian Gampr
The Armenian Gampr is a primitive, powerful, intelligent companion and guardian. The Gampr dog today has more similarity to the historical origin breed of all mollosser type dogs than other more well-known breeds. Historical evidence shows the development of livestock and companion dogs to have been in existence on the Armenian plateau before other ancient civilizations. Anthropological findings indicate that the current Gampr type became what it is today at least 3000 years ago (Richard Ney, n.d.), and as the breed was developed out of necessity and continues to be a necessary part of human survival in its native area, the Gampr has retained a surprising amount of its original characteristics. Various central Asian countries have closely related strains of the original shepherds’ dog. However, some of the other breeds also have had genetic manipulation in the last 200 years, which in most cases has meant the loss of the primitive soundness and depth of instinct that remains today in the Gampr.
Although the oldest archeological evidence of settlements in Armenia are 90,000 years old (Ney, n.d.), under the current city of Yerevan, many early peoples were nomadic, and wealth was measured in possessions, including livestock. A dog such as the Gampr is invaluable in protecting one’s possessions, particularly livestock. Even now, it is common knowledge among owners of sheep or goats and livestock guardian dogs that a good dog will save the owner thousands of dollars in prevented losses (Poynner, Robyn, April 2008). During the thousands of years of nomadic herding and trading, a good dog could easily have meant the difference between life and death. According to early petroglyphs beginning ca. 15,000-12,000 in the Armenian highlands, specifically “at Ughtasar and on the Geghama mountain range, up to 20% of the carvings resemble the modern gampr, while others show a remarkable diversity of dog that no longer exists.”(Ney, n.d.) The continued existence of domesticated animals at that time was most likely restricted to those which were particularly useful and relatively self-sustaining.
Archeological records of early dogs are somewhat concurrent and very widespread. Many archaeological finds indicate that the “first” domesticated dog came from several origins. One fairly recent find is of two skulls that are quite similar to the Gampr and other Central Asian Shepherds, and it is postulated that this may be the first link between wolves and ancient dogs (Viegas, Jennifer, May 2003). Russian scientist Mikhail Sablin reported that the two dogs found were very similar to the wolves in the area at the time, but had shorter snouts, wider palates, and measured about 27.5 inches at the shoulder, which is about average for the Gampr (Viegas, 2003).
Another possible origin of the domestication of the dog is southeast Asia. Extensive genetic mapping indicates a genetic “age” of the domestication process, 12,000-15,000 years old. A landmark study lead by Peter Savolainen and involving a team of scientists from several continents organized mitochondrial DNA clades from modern dogs into 5 main groups. Since ninety-five percent of the dogs studied were from three clades, Savolainen’s team looked to the remaining clades which included the first three but had more genetic diversity, indicating a longer age of genetic development. The greatest differences in mitochondrial DNA were apparently from southeast Asia, indicating to the analysts that this was where the original domestication process had begun (Savolainen et al, November 2002).