A new study reported in the Science journal suggests that dogs were the first animal to be domesticated, most likely evolving from wolves. The study, reported on the BBC News website, shows that all dogs share a common ancestry and the species had already diversified into at least five major types by the end of the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago.
The study concludes that dogs were domesticated before any other known species. Humans first formed a relationship with wolves and this later gave rise to dogs. Dogs are thought to have evolved from wolves that ventured into human camps, perhaps sniffing around for food. As they were tamed, they could then have served humans as hunting companions or guards.
For example, early European dogs were initially diverse, appearing to originate from two very distinct populations, one related to Near Eastern dogs and another to Siberian dogs. But at some point, perhaps after the onset of the Bronze Age, a single dog lineage spread widely and replaced all other dog populations on the continent.
A team from the Ancient Genomics laboratory at London’s Crick Institute, sequenced 27 ancient dog genomes up to 10.9 thousand years old, taken from multiple sites in Europe, the Near East, and Siberia. Anders Bergström, lead author of the study, told the BBC: “Although the European dogs we see today come in such an extraordinary array of shapes and forms, genetically they derive from only a very narrow subset of the diversity that used to exist.” The results of the study reveal that breeds like the Rhodesian Ridgeback in southern Africa and the Chihuahua and Xoloitzcuintli in Mexico retain genetic traces of ancient indigenous dogs from the region.
Dogs are thought to have evolved from wolves which ventured into human camps, perhaps in search of food. Once tamed, they could then have been used as hunting companions or even guards. It is not known when and where domestication first took place and the study concludes that it happened at different times in various places around the world. Other archaeological records point to a long-term and close relationship between dogs and humans.
Most animals probably became pets when humans settled down and began to farm around 6,000 years ago in areas such as the Near East. In Egypt for instance, cats were useful for controlling pests such as mice. Dr Pontus Skoglund, co-author of the study, explains “For dogs, it could almost have been anywhere: cold Siberia, the warm Near East, South-East Asia. All of these are possibilities.”
Science journal website https:// science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6516/557
Paul Rincon, Science Editor, BBC News website
Text Alun Harvey