Dogs: Our Best Friends for Over 30,000 Years

By: The Scribe on Monday, March 11, 2013

Several recent discoveries of canine skulls have revealed to scientists that your darling little Buddy’s ancestors may have been man’s best friend 15,000 years earlier than they’d previously thought.

One of the skulls, found in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, has shown through DNA tests to be more closely related to modern domestic pets than wolves, showing that dogs may have been domesticated over 33,000 years ago—moving the earliest thought domestication out of East Asia and the Middle East.

The theory is that wolves moved from being wild creatures to domesticated creatures through a slow process, though exactly how has been debated (and still is) in many scientific circles. It is well documented that dogs were fully established within human societies about 10,000 years ago, with burials of dogs and humans found together in graves from Germany dated to 14,000 years ago.

This new skull and another fossil found in Goyet Cave (Belgium) now represent the two oldest potentially domestic dogs ever discovered—and along with DNA research, the anatomical examinations of the skulls showed them to be more like Lassie than the Big Bad.

The genetic sequences studied by researchers were compared to gene sequences of 72 modern dog species from 70 different breeds, as well as 30 wolves, 4 coyotes, and 35 “prehistoric canid species from the Americas.” ()

The results? Pretty much what they’d already learned from looking at the skulls, though the study did confirm that the Altai canid skull was from an ancient dog and not an ancient wolf, though the split from wolf would have happened rather recently in the dog’s ancestry.

That said, the DNA study was limited to just a portion of the genome, since working with ancient DNA presents its own set of challenges! According to researchers on the project, “additional discoveries of doglike remains are essential for further narrowing the time and region of origin for the domestic dog.”

Either way, give your Old Yeller a hug today—sounds like dogs have been putting up with us for a lot longer than most people would!


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