Where and when did dogs appear? A new study tries to provide some answers to this mystery

From wolf to dog

We already know that the beginnings of domestication date back at least 15,000 years, and more probably 23,000 years. According to the most popular theory, during the last ice age, less shy gray wolves approached human encampments to collect remains. Over time, they passed down genes that slid them into increasingly docile behaviors as humans began to use them for hunting and guarding camps. But where exactly did this happen?

Some genetic analyzes of modern dogs suggest that dogs originated in East Asia, while other genetic and archaeological evidence indicates that our puppies came from Siberia, the Middle East, Western Europe or perhaps from several places. To find out for sure, 81 researchers (archaeologists, anthropologists and geneticists) pooled their resources. They sequenced 66 ancient wolf genomes from sites across Europe, Siberia and North America and studied six others. The ages of these 72 animals span the past 100,000 years.

Closer to East Asian wolves than European ones

By comparing these genomes with those of modern and ancient dogs, the researchers notably discovered that the dogs are much more closely related to ancient East Asian wolves than to those of Europe. This points to East Eurasia as their home region and more or less eliminates West Eurasia, the team claims. But none of the ancient wolves were found to be close ancestors to dogs, meaning the actual site of domestication remains a mystery.

Curiously, the ancient wolves of Europe also seem to share some genes with modern dogs from West Eurasia and Africa. Two possibilities: either they underwent a separate domestication event, which would mean that the dogs potentially appeared in several different places. Either they crossed paths at some point with a Western population of dogs. While intriguing, the possibility of separate domestications has yet to convince most researchers, who lean towards a single, still mysterious domestication event, followed by subsequent interbreeding.

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