The origin of dog; new DNA evidence

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Much has been written about the domestication of dogs over the years; research has pointed to Fido’s ancestor being from one line of wolf, and domestication happening at one time anywhere between 10,000 to 30,000 years ago (depending on which study you pick).  However, new evidence from researchers at the University of Oxford (working as part of a larger international project), suggests that there were actually two completely separate domestication events.

This means, in different parts of the world, humans took the decision to bond with wild dogs thus creating man’s best friend.  Furthermore, this study suggests that these events took place somewhere between 4,000 and 26,000 years apart.

The question of where domestic dogs come from has long been hotly debated. 

While some argue that humans first domesticated wolves in Europe, others suggest this happened in Central Asia or China.  These new findings published in the journal Science, suggests both claims may be right.  Greg Larson, a senior Oxford University researcher who helped lead the project says: “Maybe the reason there hasn’t been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right.

Genetic data was compared with existing archaeological evidence and modern dog DNA for the creation of Fido’s family tree.  This included; the mitochondrial DNA evidence from 59 ancient dogs who lived between 14,000 to 3,000 years ago, and the genome of a 4,800 year old dog that came from the Neolithic Passage Tomb of Newgrange in Ireland (an ancient monument built by Stone Age farmers, see photo).

These latest findings suggest that dogs may have been domesticated independently in Eastern and Western Eurasia from distinct wolf populations.  East Eurasian dogs were then possibly transported to Europe with people, where they partially replaced European Paleolithic dogs.  That would mean most domestic dogs today are a genetic mix of their Asian and European ancestors.

This study is part of a major international project which is combining ancient and modern genetic data with detailed morphological and archaeological research.  By analysing thousands of ancient dogs and wolves the team can determine, more acccurately, the timing and location of the origins of our four-legged friends.  According to Peter Savolainen, a geneticist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, this double origin theory could also suggest that “cats and pigs were domesticated multiple times“.

This is certainly fascinating stuff and could explain, in part, why scientists have had a hard time interpreting previous genetic studies.

 

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