Those of us who are dog lovers frequently have to fend off the charge that our best friends are just scaled down wolves. Well, to an extent, yes. (There is a school of thought that claims dogs and wolves split about 27,000-40,000 years ago, but we may never know since the research discussed below makes a different claim altogether.)
However, thanks to new research, we now know that the furry companions of people everywhere were domesticated not once, but most likely twice. In examining the DNA from thousands of canine specimens both living and fossilized, researchers at the University of Oxford are looking at the possibility that wolves were domesticated into dogs in Europe, and in the Far East, before humans began migrating with their dogs into the Middle East. Via The Daily Mail:
Professor Greger Larson, senior author of the study, said: ‘Animal domestication is a rare thing and a lot of evidence is required to overturn the assumption that it happened just once in any species.’
The researchers created an evolutionary history of dogs by sequencing the genome of a 4,800 year old dog, using bone excavated at the Neolithic Passage Tomb of Newgrange in Ireland….
They also obtained mitochondrial DNA from 59 ancient dogs living between 3,000 and 14,000 years ago and then compared them with the genetic signatures of more than 2,500 modern dogs….
What came through in the DNA sequencing was that the genes sported by theb ancient dogs of the east and the west (Europe and the Far East) are different enough that the original domesticating stock was taken from completely different wolf populations, thus, they were not domesticated together at all. In addition, it looks like the original dog population in Europe was mostly replaced with dogs from another source somewhere along the line. Another source of information on the history of dogs, of course, is the archaeological record. That narrative demonstrated that dogs came on the scene at least 12,000 years ago, but less than 8,000 years ago in the Middle East and Central Asia.
At this point, with the number of breeds developed for specific function over the years, the mixing of the DNA is thorough enough that the dogs of history are needed to sort out the mystery.
Professor Larsen said: ‘Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right.’
Which could be the reason why the wide variety of dogs is available today.