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Back in time 18,800 to 32,000 years ago, European hunter-gatherers came in contact with a group of wolves as they set out to scavenge for food. According to scientists in a recent study published in the journal Science, this is where the first group of wolves became domesticated and eventually came to the home as dogs years later.
There are different theories to where domesticated dogs come from. Some studies suggests that the split happened during the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago when wolves were scavenging for human scraps. Another shows a wolf’s first domestication took place in East Asia. However, a most recent study done by the University of Turku in Finland showed a clear connection of the domestication of dogs to Europe.
In this study researchers analyzed 18 ancient fossils, as well as DNA sequences from both wolves and dogs to determine their origin of domestication. They made a family tree to chart the relationships and connections that they found within the DNA. As they dated this family tree back to their ancient canine species, they found their origins in Europe, with hunter-gatherers most likely having the first interactions with the wolves.
According to the tree, the canine had ancestors as far back as 32,100 years ago. Most of domestic dogs shared an ancestor from the European region 18,800 years ago. These wolves that roamed the wild tens of thousands of years ago have become the friendly dogs that people now have in their home tens of thousands years later. Researcher Olaf Thalmann suggests the ancient species of wolves that led to the domesticated dog may be extinct due to human behaviors. Although this study had clear findings, researchers cautioned that this is not the absolute theory for canine domestication origins.
The process in which a wolf actually evolved into a dog is still a mystery. A popular theory to the wolves’ transformation is that they were brought into civilization when they were cubs and tamed through socialization.
Another theory that fits the hunter-gatherer model is that while humans were out hunting, they became respected as the “highest ranking wolf” in their interactions with the canines. As the tamer wolves stuck around the humans, they eventually became more tame in their behavior and led to domestication. This theory suggests that their interactions also led them to eventually hunt together, as the human’s ingenuity and the wolf’s speed created the perfect match for capturing game.
These theories are mostly hypotheses to reconstruct the ancient past and develop a correlation between the transformations of wolves to dogs. Perhaps a clearer understanding of this evolution is shown through a 20th century Russian Geneticist’s experiment. Dmitri Belyaev tried to solve the mystery of why dogs, a descendant of the wolves, look and act the way they do today. Why did they change in appearance? How did they transform from ferocity to friendliness?
In his experiment Belyaev attempted to tame wild foxes and selectively bred them. After a few generations of breeding, he found that these foxes began to take more dog-like characteristics. Their appearance even changed from sharp ears to more floppy ears and shorter snouts. Although foxes are the ancestors of dogs, this experiment gives insight to how dogs came to be.
Many years later, dogs are now considered man’s best friend. Instead of traveling in wolf packs and roaming in the wild, they travel with their human companion and run on streets and in parks. Instead of using their keen senses to track down prey, some dogs are now used to find criminals. Instead of showing aggression towards humans, dogs exude friendliness and love toward their owners.
However, dogs still share similar behaviors and physical traits with their ancestors to this very day. Both are territorial and will guard what they deem theirs. Both have incredibly keen senses and are still very similar in genetic makeup, sharing 78 of the similar chromosomes. Despite their domestication, the dogs’ origin as wolves are still a part of who they are now.
By Joyce Chu