Year in review: New dates, place proposed for dogs’ beginnings

Wolf rib bone

DOGS' EARLY DAYS  This year, scientists analyzed the DNA from this 35,000-year-old piece of rib bone from an ancient wolf. The results suggest that dogs could have been domesticated as early as 40,000 years ago.

Love Dalén

Man’s best friend might be much older than anyone thought.

In May, a genetic analysis of an ancient wolf’s rib bone suggested that wolves and dogs probably split sometime between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago (SN: 6/13/15, p. 10). The new evidence raises the possibility that dog domestication is quite ancient, corresponding roughly in time to the Neandertal extinction. But it’s also possible that these early members of the dog lineage weren’t yet tame or living with humans, says Pontus Skoglund, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who led the study.

The earliest dog domestication probably occurred near present-day Nepal and Mongolia, Laura Shannon of Cornell University and colleagues wrote in a study published in October (SN: 11/28/15, p. 8). An analysis of 185,805 genetic markers showed that modern dogs from Central Asia are more diverse than dogs elsewhere. Previously proposed regions for early domestication include the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and Siberia.

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