Dogs have been man’s best friend for up to 40,000 years, suggests new research, agencies report.The study shows dogs’ special relationship with humans might date back 27,000 to 40,000 years.The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, come from genomic analysis of an ancient Taimyr wolf bone.Earlier genome-based estimates have suggested that the ancestors of modern-day dogs diverged from wolves no more than 16,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age.
The genome from this ancient specimen, which has been radiocarbon dated to 35,000 years ago, reveals that the Taimyr wolf represents the most recent common ancestor of modern wolves and dogs. Doctor Love Dalen, of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said: “Dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than is generally believed. “The only other explanation is that there was a major divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of these populations subsequently gave rise to all modern wolves.”
Dr Dalen considers the second explanation less likely, since it would require that the second wolf population subsequently became extinct in the wild. First author of the study Pontus Skoglund, of Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, said: “It is possible that a population of wolves remained relatively untamed, but tracked human groups to a large degree, for a long time.”
The researchers made the discoveries based on a small piece of bone picked up during an expedition to the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia. Initially, they did not realise the bone fragment came from a wolf – this was only determined using a genetic test back in the laboratory. However, wolves are common on the Taimyr Peninsula, and the bone could have easily belonged to a modern-day wolf.
On a hunch, the researchers decided to radiocarbon date the bone anyway. It was only then that they realised what they had: a 35,000-year-old bone from an ancient Taimyr wolf. The DNA evidence also shows that modern-day Siberian Huskies and Greenland sled dogs share an unusually large number of genes with the ancient Taimyr wolf. Skoglund added: “The power of DNA can provide direct evidence that a Siberian Husky you see walking down the street shares ancestry with a wolf that roamed Northern Siberia 35,000 years ago.
“This wolf lived just a few thousand years after Neandertals disappeared from Europe and modern humans started populating Europe and Asia.”