Humankind’s long friendship with the dog may have begun at least twice. Grey wolves in western Eurasia may have started hanging around Stone Age hunter-gatherer clans even before humans and dogs clinched the relationship perhaps 14,000 years ago in east Asia.
New research based on DNA samples from prehistoric hounds, as well as genetic studies of modern dogs and wolves, suggests that two populations of grey wolves – separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years – may have begun the connection that turned Canis lupus into Canis lupus familiaris.
“Animal domestication is a rare thing and a lot of evidence is required to overturn the assumption that it happened just once in any species,” said Professor Greger Larson, one of the authors and the director of the Wellcome Trust palaeogenomics and bio-archaeology research network at Oxford University.
Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right.”
The domestication of cattle, sheep and goats began with the first farm settlements in the Fertile Crescent at the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. The only animal known to have been domesticated twice is the pig, in both east Asia and the near East. The same story might be true for Rover and Fido. If so, grey wolves must have started hanging around human settlements for food scraps: the step from scavenger to hunting companion would have taken many generations.