Nearly half of all American households own a dog, but we still don’t really know where these lovable-if-slobbery creatures came from. That is, we’ve got a general idea that they were domesticated from wolves, but we’re missing many of the details.
Researchers are starting to pin down how dogs and humans first bonded: dogs evolved from the wolves that were less shy—the ones who happily gorged on our scraps and refuse. Over time, the wolves crept closer and closer into camp, until one day they decided to stick around.
What we’re less sure about is where this took place. There’s a fight going on between scientists right now, says Carl Zimmer for the New York Times, about the geographic origin of the dog. Using complex genetic comparisons, or DNA extracted from ancient fossil pups, says Zimmer, different teams of scientists are coming to different conclusions:
In May, for example, Dr. Salovainen and Chinese colleagues reported that Chinese native dogs had the most wolflike genomes. By tallying up the mutations in the different dog and wolf genomes, they estimated that the ancestors of Chinese village dogs and wolves split about 32,000 years ago.
If this were true, then the first dogs would have become domesticated not by farmers, but by Chinese hunter-gatherers more than 20,000 years before the dawn of agriculture.
A separate team of researchers, lead by Robert Wayne, have a different idea. Wayne and his team, says Zimmer, “did not find that living dogs were closely related to wolves from the Middle East or China. Instead, their closest relatives were ancient dogs and wolves from Europe.
“It’s a simple story, and the story is they were domesticated in Europe,” Dr. Shapiro said.
Salovainen thinks Wayne’s research is wrong, and Wayne thinks Salovainen is. It’s perhaps not too surprising that different tribes of humans, from different part of the globe, would want to take credit for finding man’s best friend. But we still don’t know where dogs came from, not really.
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