Man's Best Friend Originated in Europe

By Alice Orszulok

Ancient DNA suggests European hunters tamed the first dogs.

Your German shepherd may look nothing like your neighbour’s teacup Chihuahua, but some 18,000 years ago they shared a common ancestor in Europe, according to a study by international researchers.

Dogs are largely regarded as man’s best friend, but the ‘friendship’ has created much debate among scientists—how did the bond form? Although archaeologists have uncovered dogs and humans buried together from around 14,000 years ago, some scientists have suggested that dog domestication could have occurred even earlier than that.

An international research team led by Olaf Thalmann from the University of Turku in Finland collected fossil remains such as bones and tooth roots from ancient “wolf-like” and “dog-like” animals from Europe, Asia, and America. Some of the fossils date back to 36,000 years ago. The researchers then analysed and compared mitochondrial DNA from these ancient fossils with modern dogs, wolves, and coyotes. They found that modern dogs were closer genetically to the ancient wolves or dogs from Europe instead of wolves found anywhere else in the world or even with modern European wolves. This led them to believe that dogs came from ancient European wolves that are now extinct.

“We narrowed down the time frame and evaluated that the domestication process began about 18,800-32,100 years ago,” Thalmann said in a statement.

Now that we know when and where dogs started to become domesticated, the question remaining is why. Most wild animals became domesticated at the same time as agriculture became a common practice, as they were used to help with farming, around 10,000 years ago. Since the DNA tests showed that dogs were domesticated much earlier than this, they must have had a different purpose.

According to Robert Wayne, senior author of the research, it is likely that wolves may have become domesticated by following human hunters on the trail. “One can imagine wolves first taking advantage of the carcasses that humans left behind—a natural role for any large carnivore—and then over time moving more closely into the human niche through a co-evolutionary process,” he said in a news release.

Source [Science Daily]

Did you know?

The dingo is known as Australia’s wild dog, however it originally came from Asia around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Although the dingo was not included in the study, many people believe that  it’s somewhere between wolves and dogs, and may possibly be the descendants of one of man’s earlier attempts to domesticate wolves.