The wolf, wild ancestor of the modern dog

Skelet van een trouwe metgezel vindplaats: Hardinxveld-Giessendam (ZH), datering: 5500-5300 v.Chr. Bron: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden.

Throughout history man has used the dog as a companion, a hunter and a draught animal, and more recently as a police dog and a guide dog. The wild ancestor of the dog is the wolf, and it appears from new research into mitochondrial DNA that dogs were domesticated by man four times.

de wolf, voorouder van de hond
Wolf (Canis lupus), wild ancestor of the dog. By Gary Kramer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The wolf, ancestor of the dog

In 2018 it appeared that the wolf had returned to the province of Drenthe in the northeast of the Netherlands. At least one wolf was living there permanently. In prehistory the wolf was a common sight here but at the beginning of the 20th century the wolf had disappeared, thanks to man and through a combination of hunting and the loss of suitable habitat. In 2000 a wolf was seen again in the Netherlands for the first time and since 2015 sightings have increased.

de wolf, de voorouder van de hond

Origins of the dog

The oldest find of a dog was a skull in a cave at Goyet near Namur in Belgium. The dog had lived around 31,700 years ago (GERMONPRE 2009). Research into its mitochondrial DNA showed that the animal came from an extinct side-branch of the dog family and was not a direct ancestor of the modern dog that we know today (THALMANN 2013). Some researchers believe it to be a wolf’s skull, but others – such as Germonpre – remain convinced that it is a dog (DRAKE ET.AL. 2015 & GERMONPRE & SABLIN 2015). The first findings of an ‘official’ dog date to around 15,000 years ago in Germany, where a dog was found buried alongside people (GIEMSCH ET.AL. 2015). The oldest find in the Netherlands dates from the Middle Stone Age. Domestication took place in the time of the hunter-gatherers when dogs were used for hunting and as guard dogs.

 Skeleton of a faithful companion found at Hardinxveld-Giessendam (South Holland), dating from 5500-5300 BC. Source: Museum of Antiquities, Leiden.


DRAKE, A.G., ET.AL., 2015. Morphometric Analysis of Fossil Canid Skulls Contradicts the Suggested Domestication of Dogs During the Late Paleolithic. In: Scientific Reports, 2015, vol. 5, nr. 8299.

GERMONPRE, M., 2009. Fossil dogs and wolves from Palaeolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes. In: Journal of Archaeological Science, 2009, vol. 36, nr. 2, pp. 473-490.

GERMONPRE, M. & M. SABLIN, 2015. Palaeolithic dogs and Pleistocene wolves revisited: a reply to Morey (2014). In: Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 54, februari 2015, pp. 210-216,

GIEMSCH, L., ET.AL., 2015. Interdisciplinary investigations of the late glacial double burial from Bonn-Oberkassel”. Hugo Obermaier Society for Quaternary Research and Archaeology of the Stone Age: 57th Annual Meeting in Heidenheim, 7th – 11 April 2015, pp. 36–37.

THALMANN, O., 2013. Complete Mitochondrial Genomes of Ancient Canids Suggest a European Origin of Domestic Dogs. In: Science, 2013, vol. 342, nr. 6160, pp. 871-874.

Text                             Nadine Lemmers

Translation                 Alun Harvey



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