New Dog Study Contradicts Previous Theories About The Domestication Of Man’s Best Friend

The debate as to where dogs came from has been going on for decades. Many scientists can’t agree on whether the dog was domesticated in Europe or the Far East. As a report from Mental Floss says, some analyses contend that domestic dogs first appeared in Central Asia, while others argue that they evolved from wolves in Southeast Asia or even in Europe. According to a new study surrounding the origins of man’s best friend, the dog was domesticated in the two sites independently. And neither one came before the other, since both domestications occurred over 12,000 years ago, and from two different populations of wolves.

After analyzing the mitochondrial DNA of 59 ancient dogs and the complete genome of a Neolithic dog that lived approximately 4,800 years ago, researchers compared the information with the genetic traits of hundreds of modern breeds. According to their results, there is a sharp genetic division among modern Western Eurasian and East Asian dogs.


According to the Associated Press, the study drew on genetics and archaeological records. It included a complete genome from a dog that lived in Ireland about 4,800 years ago and more limited DNA from 59 European dogs that lived 14,000 to 3,000 years ago. The ancient DNA was compared to genetic data for 685 modern dogs.

While the current Eastern dog species are often genuine inheritors of the first dogs to be domesticated there, many modern European dogs are mixed breeds with Eastern origin. It is a consequence of migration from east to west that occurred in prehistoric times.

Lead author of the study Laurent Frantz gave the following statement regarding the study’s findings.

“Reconstructing the past from modern DNA is a bit like looking into the history books: you never know whether crucial parts have been erased. Ancient DNA, on the other hand, is like a time machine, and allows us to observe the past directly.”

The research is one the largest studies of canine DNA that has been done in recent memory, and includes the first ancient genome of a dog, extracted from a bone (inner ear) that was very well preserved in a tomb of funerary passage of one of Ireland’s most famous archaeological sites.

Scientists have also analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of dozens of other bones across the continent (dated between 14,000 and 3,000 years ago), and have compared all with preexisting data from about 2,500 wolves and modern dogs. An international team coordinated by Greger Larson of the University of Oxford, presented the results in the journal Science.

Via the York Dispatch, the study abstract from the University of Oxford can be read below

“The history of how wolves became our pampered pooches of today has remained controversial. Frantz et al. describe high-coverage sequencing of the genome of an Irish dog from the Bronze Age as well as ancient dog mitochondrial DNA sequences. Comparing ancient dogs to a modern worldwide panel of dogs shows an old, deep split between East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs. Thus, dogs were domesticated from two separate wolf populations on either side of the Old World.”

Animal domestication is a rare phenomenon and a lot of evidence is required to unseat the assumption that it only happened once for each species. Most scientists agree that the dog was the first domesticated animal, but some scholars have argued that the first domesticated dogs were from the wolf 30,000 years ago. The first remains of dogs are uncontroversial, however, and they date from 15,000 years ago in Europe, and 12,500 years ago in East Asia.

But despite many efforts and studies regarding the evolution of dogs, several basic aspects about the origin and evolution of the domestic dog are still in dispute including several different geographical regions as the proposed birthplace of domestic dogs, and estimations of the date of divergence between wolves and dogs of between 32,000 and 10,000 years ago.


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