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Dog Domestication: How, When, Where?

dog domestication
Posted: December 29, 2015 at 2:12 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Ardern Hulme-Beaman, a 27-year old Irish, spent half a year traveling the world to find ancient dog bones, and now he finally has it. He found a lot of them in the archaeology laboratory of Ohio State University amid a box of jigsaw pieces of bones of dozens of canine dogs.

Dog Domestication

It is important to note that the first thing that humans domesticated are actually dogs — before any plants and animals. However, despite years of studies, scientists still argue about where and when the wolves have become loyal human companions.

dog domestication

Dogs have helped humans since prehistory. Here they accompany a caravan transporting salt in Tibet. KAZUYOSHI NOMACHI/CORBIS

Jean-Denis Vigne, a zoo-archaeologist at Paris’s National Museum of Natural History, noted that dogs may give light on the prehistoric lives of humans and the nature of domestication. He said, “It’s very competitive and contentious. It’s an animal so deeply and strongly connected to our history that everyone wants to know.”

Hulme-Beaman and his fellow scientists shared samples and analyzed thousands of dog bones. If they succeed, they will uncover the history of the man’s best friend and solve the mystery of their domestication.

The Dog Wars

It was actually Charles Darwin who ignited the first of dog wars. In 1868, he wrote “The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication”. He wondered if dogs have evolved from a single type of species or unusual mating between wolves and jackals. After decades of speculation, genetic analyses conducted in the late 1990s confirmed that dogs have actually descended from gray wolves (where they share about 99.9% of their DNA).

But the “when” and “where” of this transition is still a mystery. In 1977, various scientists have discovered a puppy that was buried in the arms of a human under a 12,000-year old home located in Northern Israel. This discovery suggests that dog domestication happened in Middle East, shortly before farming. There were also skulls recovered in Russia and Germany, which pushed canine origins back to another 4,000 years. Therefore, one can conclude that dogs have been the companions of people in Eurasia while they were hunting and gathering food.

Over the years, genetic investigations only complicated the picture. A DNA analysis in 1997 for over 300 modern  dogs and wolves have found genetic differences. They aim to use the analysis for time measurement of when dogs started to diverge from their wolf ancestor. They concluded that dogs have been domesticated about 135,000 years ago. Later studies, on the other hand, argued that dog domestication originated recently (less than 30,000 years ago); however, the exact time and location are still unclear.

Archaeological Studies Made  Easy

Thanks to technology, archaeologists can now do something that they can’t do before: perform geometric morphometric analysis of the bones. With dog skull analysis, thousands of measurements can go further than just length and width to determine actual shapes, including the precise circlets of the eyes and the jag and juts of every tooth. According to Hulme-Beaman, while ancient DNA tells us where an animal originated; morphometric analysis, on the other hand, shows how domestication progressed.