There's a new narrative in the works that explains how man's best friend came to be what they are today.
The scientific community has had some disagreements on how domesticated dogs came to be. Scientists are still debating on when and where dogs first diverged from their wild ancestors. One theory holds that dogs evolved 15,000 years ago in Europe. Another holds that dogs evolved 12,500 years ago in Central Asia or China. Still another theory holds that dogs evolved in two separate locations in Europe and Asia.
A new study now claims that domestication happened much earlier—between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. Researchers say that the presence of humans is what caused dogs to split from their ancestors. Unlike previous studies, this one doesn't make claims on where this split occurred.
However, the study does present some interesting findings about how our four-legged best friends came to be at our side.
Researchers analyzed DNA from dog remains found in Germany and Ireland. They tested DNA from one set of remains that was 4,700 years old, and one that was 7,000 years old. The researchers then compared the ancient DNA with that of modern European dogs and wolves. They found that the7,000-year-old dog is essentially an ancestor to most of the modern dog breeds in the world.
One thing that's interesting to learn is that domestication probably wasn't an active effort on the part of the humans. Once domestication occurred, humans put in effort in breeding for certain traits and training their dogs. However, domestication itself happened in a passive manner, at least for humans. Dog ancestors likely approached human settlements for food, with the less aggressive ones being more successful. They were also more likely to be the ones to befriend humans.
By some point around 7,000 years ago, man's best friend was everywhere. However, they were not the family or companion dogs we know today. At the time, they were more like “village dogs”. They lived alongside humans, but they did not live with specific humans in human homes. The dogs also probably had a similar look across the world. Different looks arose when humans began breeding for specific traits and skills.
It's also interesting to note that the remains came from the Neolithic Period, right around the end of the Stone Age. It was during this time that humans began cultivating the land for farming and forming permanent settlements. Also, if dogs did first diverge from wolves 40,000 years ago, it would coincide with the Neanderthals dying out.
The findings of the study also does not support previous claims that dogs evolved in two separate locations. According to the study, dogs probably evolved in Europe and spread throughout the world from there.
These findings tell us us that man's best friend has been around for a lot longer than we expected. This new origin story has new and different sorts of twists, like a rebooted superhero movie franchise. With further study, it's possible that we'll find out more about how dogs came to our long-time companions.
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