Ancient wolf skulls challenge dog domestication timeline

3-D image of fossilized wolf skull

This fossilized skull unearthed in Goyet, Belgium, probably belonged to a wolf instead of a dog, as previously thought, a new study suggests. 

Michael Coquerelle

When did dogs become our best friends? Recent studies pushed canine domestication back to the late Pleistocene epoch, when humans still lived as hunter-gatherers. However, a 3-D analysis published February 5 in Scientific Reports suggests that two ancient canine skulls from that period lack telltale features of domesticated dogs.

Using a 3-D scanner, researchers created digital models of the two canine fossils — a 14,000-year-old skull from Eliseevichi, Russia, and a 32,000-year-old skull from Goyet, Belgium — and compared them with other ancient and modern wolf and dog skulls. Though previously pegged as belonging to dogs, the skulls “definitely” belonged to wolves, the researchers argue. So humans may not have domesticated dogs until settling into farming around 12,000 years ago.

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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