Domesticated dogs, according to scientists, have been around more recently than what previous studies have indicated. New evidence shows that the domestication of dogs may have started as early as 15,000 years ago. This was the point in time when humans were first establishing settlements and switching from the primitive hunter-gatherer means to engage in an agrarian society.
By using highly-sophisticated 3D imaging computers, scientists were able to analyze fossils of wolf and early domesticated dog skulls further to pin point the new finding. A study published in Nature Scientific revealed that the evolutionary path of wolves to dogs was much shorter than was anticipated. Previous studies showed that dogs evolved from wolves as far back as the Paleolithic age – 30,000 years ago. Now, that amount of time has been halved.
Abby Grace Drake, a biologist at Skidmore College, co-authored a new study about the evolutionary timeline of domesticated dogs. She stated that there is a copious amount of evidence showing that wolves began their domestication during the more recent Neolithic age. She explained that the remnants of domesticated dogs from the Neolithic years have been found buried with human remains. They were also decorated with necklaces of deer teeth and other ornaments of the era.
During the Neolithic, humans started to construct settlements with “dumps”. These dumps were piles of human and food waste – much like the dumps and landfills of today. Scientists now believe that wolves in the area identified these as places to scavenge for sustenance. More importantly, these areas within the settlements were tolerable of the presence of humans.
Drake enlisted the help of Bordeaux University biologist, Guillaume Colombeau and Michael Coquerelle of the University of Rey Juan Carlos to help her with the study. They analyzed two dog skulls that were estimated to be around 32,000 years old. Afterwards, they compared their findings with over 100 other skulls from both wolf and dog breeds of the era. The comparison unearthed the conclusion that the skulls were actually from wolves, not domesticated dogs. Therefore, this debunks the notion that dogs began being domesticated as far back as 30,000 years ago.
The new computerized 3D model implemented on the analysis of the skulls was revolutionary, Drake said. This technique allowed the researchers to observe minute details of the skulls that were previously unrecognizable and unidentified. The methods used before consisted of calipers which did not have the ability to allow researchers to measure the variations in the muzzle, regarding the angles of the orbits around the skull.
Drake stated that her and other scientists have chomping at the bit to pin point the earliest known domesticated dog. However, unbeknownst to them, the tools to more precisely measure the skulls were not available. She explained that the differences between a wolf skull and the skull of a German shepard are subtle. A 3D computer model is needed to show the exact characteristics of both species. Because of these findings, researchers can now show at exactly what point in time humans put the collar on domesticated dogs.
By: Alex Lemieux
Picture: Austronesian Expeditions – Flickr License