The divergence of the fearsome, bloodthirsty wolves that could rip your head off without a second thought into humanity’s most loyal companions is definitely among the most heartwarming things to have happened in human history. But have you ever looked at your dog as it waddles over to you — all wagging tail and loving eyes — and wondered when this all started?
Scientists have, of course, thought about this at length. While historical records indicate that dog domestication began some 40,000 to 20,000 years ago, it has been challenging to find concrete DNA evidence for the same.
In 1985, a canine humerus was recovered from Erralla cave in the Basque Country, Spain. And researchers thought that it belonged to a wolf.
And while radiocarbon dating allowed the team to gauge the age of the bone (between 17,410 and 17,096 years old), genetic and morphological studies showed that it belonged to a domesticated dog (Canis familiaris) and not a wolf (Canis lupus).
This means that this old, cracked humerus is the oldest dog bone found to date.
This dog also shared mitochondrial lineage with the Magdalenian dogs from Western Europe that flourished around 17,000 to 12,000 years ago. Those remains were recovered from Gironde, France and Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany, and dated 15,114 to 14,237 and 14,809 to 13,319 years ago, respectively.
The origin of this lineage is linked to a period of cold climate coinciding with the Last Glacial Maximum, which occurred in Europe around 22,000 years ago.
“These results raise the possibility that wolf domestication occurred earlier than proposed until now, at least in western Europe, where the interaction of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers with wild species, such as the wolf, may have been boosted in areas of glacial refuge (such as the Franco-Cantabrian) during this period of the climate crisis,” explained Conchi de la Rúa, head of the Human Evolutionary Biology group at the University of the Basque Country and lead author.
This discovery opens new doors that could help us better understand the timeline and nature of remains of “dog-like wolves”, long thought to be an intermediate stage between wolves and dogs.
The findings of this research have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and can be accessed here.
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