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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

March 19, 2012

Belgian and Siberian Finds Shed Light on the Domestic Dog’s Ancestry

By David Alderton


Recent DNA studies have tended to suggest that domestic dogs may be descended from a single lineage, but now the latest archaeological evidence from Europe and Asia is challenging this suggestion. An ancient dog skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication.

Domesticated dog skull
This 33,000-year-old skull of a domesticated dog was found in an extraordinarily well-preserved state in the Razboinichya cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia.
Siberian dog skull
A profile of the Siberian dog skull shows the shortened snout and crowded teeth that helped scientists determine this ancient animal was domesticated.Photos by Nikolai D. Ovodov.

This find, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than being the result of a single domestication event.

The UA's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the Siberian skull. At 33,000 years old, the Siberian skull predates a period known as the Last Glacial Maximum, or LGM, which occurred between about 26,000 and 19,000 years ago.

This was when the ice sheets of Earth's last ice age reached their greatest extent and severely disrupted the living patterns of humans and animals alive during that time. Neither the Belgian nor the Siberian domesticated lineages appear to have survived the LGM.

However, the two skulls indicate that the domestication of dogs by humans occurred repeatedly throughout early human history at different geographical locations, which could mean that modern dogs have multiple ancestors rather than a single common ancestor.

"In terms of human history, before the Last Glacial Maximum, people were living with wolves and then dogs in widely separated geographical areas of Euro-Asia, and had clearly been living with them long enough so that these canids were actually evolving physically," said Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona. "And then climate change happened, human habitation patterns changed, and the relationships with those particular lineages of animals apparently didn't survive, at least in these cases. Yet it is really interesting that dogs appear to have been domesticated before all other animals, such as sheep and cattle."

More information can be found here: Nikolai D. Ovodov, Susan J. Crockford, Yaroslav V. Kuzmin, Thomas F. G. Higham, Gregory W. L. Hodgins, Johannes van der Plicht. A 33,000-Year-Old Incipient Dog from the Altai Mountains of Siberia: Evidence of the Earliest Domestication Disrupted by the Last Glacial Maximum. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (7): e22821 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022821

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