60-Second Science

Update For When Wolf Became Woof

Genetic analysis moves dog domestication from wolf ancestors to possibly as far back as 30,000 years ago, in Europe, when humans were still hunter-gatherers. Wayt Gibbs reports.

We love our dogs, and they love us. But it hasn’t always been that way. Dogs evolved from wolves. But when—and where?

Some have argued that humans domesticated wolves into dogs in Asia or the Middle East about 12,000 years ago, as the rise of agriculture allowed us to settle down.

But the bones of ancient dogs, dug up from caves in Belgium and Siberia, tell a different story.

A team of geneticists extracted DNA from those bones, as well as from 49 wolves and from 77 modern dogs of various breeds. By comparing the DNA from dogs and their ancestors, the scientists were able to reconstruct a family tree. The work appears in the journal Science. [O. Thalmann et al., Complete Mitochondrial Genomes of Ancient Canids Suggest a European Origin of Domestic Dogs]

The geneticists conclude that dogs were probably domesticated in Europe, most likely between 19,000 and 30,000 years ago, when we humans were still hunting and gathering—and leaving carcasses and trash piles behind.

Those wolves that overcame their natural fear of people might have had easy meals. And now we have a better idea of just who let the dogs in.

—Wayt Gibbs

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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