Genetic information from a 35,000-year-old wolf bone found below a frozen cliff in Siberia is shedding new light on humankind's long relationship with dogs, showing canine domestication may have occurred earlier than previously thought. Today's dogs, from the Chihuahua to the Great Dane, are believed to have descended from wild wolves domesticated by humans in prehistoric times.
Scientists said on Thursday they pieced together the genome of the wolf that lived on Russia's Taimyr Peninsula and found that it belonged to a population that likely represented the most recent common ancestor between dogs and wolves. Using this genetic information, they estimated that dog domestication occurred between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago. Previous research based on genetic data from modern-day wolves and dogs had estimated that dogs were first domesticated 11,000 to 16,000 years ago.
The research was published in the journal Current Biology.
Swedish Museum of Natural History geneticist Love Dalén found the wolf bone fragment, likely a part of a rib, in the Siberian permafrost. The wolf likely belonged to a population that roamed the Eurasian steppe tundra during the last Ice Age, hunting large prey like bison, musk ox and horses, Dalén said.
"I think one of the simplest explanations is that hunter-gatherers may have caught wolf pups, which is extremely easy to do," Dalén said, "and kept them in captivity as sentinels against the large predators that roamed the landscapes of the last Ice Age — bears, cave lions, etc. as well as other dangerous mammals — mammoths, woolly rhinos, other humans."
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