The origins of the dog

Dogs and humans go back even further than previously thought.

Humans and dogs were constant companions well before our ancestors settled in villages and started growing crops 10,000 years ago

I have no doubt that thousands of dog owners all around the world must be enthralled by the way that dogs relate to us and, in turn, how we humans relate to dogs. More than once a day, one of our dogs will do something that has me and Jean marvelling at their way of living so close to us.

Then when one starts to reflect on how long dogs and humans have been together, perhaps it could be seen as the direct result of that length of relationship.

Now there’s nothing new in me writing this, after all the home page of Learning from Dogs states:

Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time, at least 30,000 years. That makes the domesticated dog the longest animal companion to man, by far!

Back in May the website Livescience published an article that revealed more about the length of our relationship with dogs. This is how it opened:

Ancient Wolf DNA Could Solve Dog Origin Mystery

by Becky Oskin, Senior Writer

Humans and dogs were constant companions well before our ancestors settled in villages and started growing crops 10,000 years ago, a new study suggests.

Genetic evidence from an ancient wolf bone discovered lying on the tundra in Siberia’s Taimyr Peninsula reveals that wolves and dogs split from their common ancestor at least 27,000 years ago. “Although separation isn’t the same as domestication, this opens up the possibility that domestication occurred much earlier than we thought before,” said lead study author Pontus Skoglund, who studies ancient DNA at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute in Massachusetts. Previously, scientists had pegged the wolf-dog split at no earlier than 16,000 years ago.

The Livescience article referred to results that were published in the journal Current Biology on May 21st this year. One needs a subscription to read the full report but here is their summary:

The origin of domestic dogs is poorly understood [ 1–15 ], with suggested evidence of dog-like features in fossils that predate the Last Glacial Maximum [ 6, 9, 10, 14, 16 ] conflicting with genetic estimates of a more recent divergence between dogs and worldwide wolf populations [ 13, 15, 17–19 ]. Here, we present a draft genome sequence from a 35,000-year-old wolf from the Taimyr Peninsula in northern Siberia. We find that this individual belonged to a population that diverged from the common ancestor of present-day wolves and dogs very close in time to the appearance of the domestic dog lineage. We use the directly dated ancient wolf genome to recalibrate the molecular timescale of wolves and dogs and find that the mutation rate is substantially slower than assumed by most previous studies, suggesting that the ancestors of dogs were separated from present-day wolves before the Last Glacial Maximum. We also find evidence of introgression from the archaic Taimyr wolf lineage into present-day dog breeds from northeast Siberia and Greenland, contributing between 1.4% and 27.3% of their ancestry. This demonstrates that the ancestry of present-day dogs is derived from multiple regional wolf populations.

That summary page also includes the following Graphical Abstract:

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I don’t have permission to republish the Livescience article in full but would like to offer the closing paragraphs of this fascinating report.

“It is a very well-done paper,” Perry [George Perry, an expert in ancient DNA at Pennsylvania State University] told Live Science. “This topic is a critical one for our understanding of human evolution and human-environment interactions in the Paleolithic. Partnership with early dogs may have facilitated more efficient hunting strategies.”

If dogs first befriended hunter-gatherers, rather than farmers, then perhaps the animals helped with hunting or keeping other carnivores away. For instance, an author of a new book claims humans and dogs teamed up to drive Neanderthals to extinction. Skoglund also suggested the Siberian husky followed nomads across the Bering Land Bridge, picking up wolf DNA along the way.

“It might have been beneficial for them to absorb genes that were adapted to this high Arctic environment,” Skoglund said.

This is the first wolf genome from the Pleistocene, and more ancient DNA from prehistoric fossils could provide further insights into the relationship between wolves, dogs and humans, the researchers said.

Yes, our dogs have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time – and Jean and I, as with tens of thousands of others, can’t imagine a world without dogs.

2 thoughts on “The origins of the dog

  1. Great. I have read this research and science of origins on dogs. Important post for those who do not know and wonder at how dogs got to know us so WELL!

    “Dogs are the only animal who lives with us, inside their flight zone.” Temple Grandin “Animals Make Us Human.”

    1. Love that saying, Deborah. It is not infrequent that I drift away in my old mind way, way back to times long ago and reflect on what it must have felt like, and meant, for early man to have curled up with a dog or two.

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