A recent study shows that we might have domesticated man’s best friend earlier than previously believed, possibly 40.000 years ago.
Older research on the genetic composition of modern-day wolves (all dog species have descended from wolves) has suggested that people started domesticating dogs roughly 11.000 – 16.000 years ago, when our ancestors started settling into villages.
Now, a team of researchers from Swedish Museum of Natural History have found that our history with dogs may be twice that long.
Love Dalen and his colleagues stumbled upon a 35.000-year-old bone fragment belonging to an ancient wolf from the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia. Taimyr wolves are believed to be the most recent common ancestor of modern-day wolves and dogs.
After analyzing the bone, scientists saw that the mutation rate was much slower than assumed by most previous studies, revealing that our bond with the lovable, four-legged fur-balls may have started somewhere between 27.000 and 40.000 years ago.
The researchers concluded that dogs split from wolves about 35.000 years ago, and that human beings almost certainly played a part in the divergence.
They don’t yet have enough information to say whether prehistoric humans actively brought wolves into their tribes and started domesticated them of if the animals simply started hanging around human settlements and domesticated themselves.
Some researches do have opinions however, Love Dalén, lead author and geneticist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, likes simplest explanations and believes that hunter-gatherers may have caught wolf pups and kept them in captivity to serve as sentinels against the large predators that walked the landscapes of the last Ice Age – bears, cave lions, mammoths, woolly rhinos, and last but not least, other humans.
DNA evidence shows that Greenland sled dogs and Siberians Huskies in particular have an unusually large number of genes in common with the ancient Taimyr wolf (27 percent of their genes).
Pontus Skoglund, researcher at the Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, gave a statement saying that “The power of DNA can provide direct evidence that a Siberian Husky you see walking down the street shares ancestry with a wolf that roamed Northern Siberia 35,000 years ago”.
He goes on to explain that the Taimyr wolf lived just a few thousand years after the Neandertals disappeared from Europe and modern humans started populating Europe and Asia.
Skoglund expressed excitement stressing how amazing it is that there is a special genetic connection between modern-day Arctic dogs and a wolf that roamed the tundra 35.000 years ago. He theorizes that Siberian domestic dog populations interbred with local wolves when they started following early humans into northern latitudes.
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