A team of researchers from the Swedish Museum of National History has discovered that the earliest dog domestication occurred 27.000 years ago, meaning 12.00 years earlier than past studies have showed. The study was published in the journal Current Biology.
The researchers have analyzed an ancient wolf bone which was discovered in Siberia’s Taimyr Peninsula. The genetic evidence from it indicates that wolves and dogs split form their common ancestor at least 27.000 years ago. One of the authors of the study Pontus Skoglund from the Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute in Massachusetts explained that in spite of the fact that separation is not the same thing as domestication the findings of the study indicate that domestication occurred earlier than previously thought.
Senior author of the study Dr. Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History confirmed Skoglund’s sayings and added that the only other possible explanation is the one according to which at that time there was a major divergence between two populations of wolves and one of the populations afterwards gave rise to the modern wolves.
Even though the prehistoric wolf went extinct its genetic legacy can still be observed in the case of Arctic sled dogs. According to Skoglund some part of the genome of the Siberian huskies traces back exclusively to the ancient Siberian wolf which roamed the tundra 35.000 years ago.
The chief executive of the Wildwood Trust in Kent, Peter Smith, said that the point in time when dogs became separated from wolves coincides with the point when the bond with humans began. Dalén explained that there is the possibility that wolves started following humans and domesticated themselves or early humans could have caught wolf cubs and raised them as pets which led to the domestication of wild wolves. If the second alternative is what indeed happened, according to her, wolves were domesticated by hunter gatherers which had a nomadic lifestyle.
Peter Smith also remarked:
“The study is showing that the deep, deep connection has existed between man and wolves – now our dogs – for many tens of thousands of years and that is why we love dogs so much. They are part of our own evolution into a modern society.”
The newly-discovered fossil provides scientists the first wolf genome from the Pleistocene. The researcher said that this discovery cold offer further insight into how the relationship between humans, wolves and dogs evolved.
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