The discovery could change how we understand the domestication of dogs.
A surprising new study is making some bold claims about dogs, and how they came to be man’s best friend.
The new research indicates that the ancestors of modern-day dogs actually were domesticated twice, not once, a stunning revelation that dates back thousands of years, according to a University of Oxford statement.
Researchers looked at a canine bone that is 4,800 years old and excavated from the Neolithic Passage Tomb in Newgrange, Ireland. They also looked at DNA from 59 ancient dogs and found a genetic difference between modern dog populations in East Asia and Europe that suggests the earliest dog population in Europe was replaced, which means dogs in the two continents were domeesticated separately.
Dogs first appeared in both the East and Westmore than 12,000 years ago, but it appears it didn’t happen in Central Asia until about 8,000 years ago.
Reconstructing the past from modern DNA is like “looking into the history books,” and ancient DNA is like “stepping into a time machine,” said the lead author, Laurent Frantz, said in the statement.
“Combined, these new findings suggest that dogs were first domesticated from geographically separated wolf populations on opposite sides of the Eurasian continent,” the statement reads. “At some point after their domestication, the eastern dogs dispersed with migrating humans into Europe where they mixed with and mostly replaced the earliest European dogs. Most dogs today are a mixture of both Eastern and Western dogs — one reason why previous genetic studies have been difficult to interpret.”
Added Professor Greger Larson, senior author and Director of Palaeo-BARN (the Wellcome Trust Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network) at Oxford University: “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. Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right.”