Dogs and humans have been constant companions for centuries now. New studies argue that dogs and humans have been companions even before people started farming around ten thousand years ago.
Genetic evidence sourced from a prehistoric bone of a wolf that was discovered in the Taimyr Peninsula, Siberia, reveals that dogs and wolves split from a common ancestor more than twenty-seven thousand years ago.
However, this kind of separation is different from domestication. Thus, it’s possible that the domestication of dogs took place earlier than what people think.
Previously, studies had suggested that dogs and wolves split around sixteen thousand years ago.
Even though the ancient wolf is now extinct, it left behind some genetic legacy in the Arctic sled dog. Siberian huskies are believed to have some genome that dates back to the historic Siberian wolf.
It’s quite amazing that there’s a unique genetic link to wolves that existed in the tundra around thirty-five thousand years ago.
Research shows that the Greenland dogs, the Spitz from Finland, and the Shar-Pei from China also carry a portion of the ancient wolf’s DNA.
Further research needs to be done to establish what these genes do since their role hasn’t been established yet.
The Puzzle of the Prehistoric Wolf
For many years, scientists believed that domesticated dogs evolved from the gray wolf. However, current research findings show that wolves and dogs have the same ancestor rather than being directly linked to each other.
The prehistoric wolf is the common ancestor of wolves and dogs. It’s believed that this prehistoric wolf lived in either Asia or Europe anywhere between nine thousand and ten thousand years ago, the same period when giant sloths, the saber-toothed tiger, and mammoths lived.
Till date, scientists have not been able to tell the kind of prehistoric wolf that led to the rise of all the great dog breeds found today.
Moreover, the Taimyr Peninsula wolf is unable to solve the existing puzzle since it also evolved from the same wolf ancestor, just around the same era when gray wolves and dogs split off.
However, the recently discovered genome of the Taimyr Peninsula wolf fine-tunes a genetic timeline known as the molecular clock. The clock is used in measuring the rate at which genetic mutations build up over time.
The Evolutionary Clock
Scientists have now sequenced both mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA from a rib bone dating back to thirty-five thousand years ago.
The scientists did a comparison of these historic successions with those of the modern dogs and wolves.
Mutations that have occurred in the genome of the Taimyr shows that the evolutionary clock of a wolf is slower than it was previously suggested.
The slower clock pushes the suggested era of the split between the dog and the wolf backward. The revised clock is now relatively more in line with the existing evidence from fossil collections.
Research findings indicate that changes in the skull leading from the wolf to the dog started appearing about thirty-three thousand years ago.
These findings are extremely important in understanding human evolution. The findings also assist in understanding how early humans interacted with the environment.
It’s now believed that the partnership between early dogs and humans may have contributed significantly towards more efficient and effective hunting strategies.
In case the ancient dogs first partnered with hunters and gatherers instead of farmers, then they most likely assisted in hunting activities or keeping dangerous carnivores away.
Actually, there’s a writer of a recently published book who claims that dogs and humans partnered to drive the Neanderthals into extinction.
It’s also suggested that the Siberian huskies followed nomads and ended up picking up the DNA of wolves. Absorbing the genes of wolves adapted to the arctic environment may have been of benefit to the husky.
While the newly discovered genome has led to new findings, more DNA from ancient wolves may offer more insight into the historical relationship between humans, dogs, and wolves.