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Check out this fascinating article from The Atlantic about the origins of domesticated dogs. The domestication of wolves by humans took place so many thousands of years ago, that the exact location of the first domestic dogs has always been in doubt.
Some experts say it was Europe, others the Middle East, and still others say East Asia. The DNA from one ancient Irish dog may just have helped solve this mystery.
Scientists found the bones of a 4,000 year-old dog at an ancient stone monument in Ireland called Newgrange. Enough DNA was extracted to sequence this dog’s genome.
When compared to the DNA of hundreds of modern dogs, researchers found what could be called a deep fork in the trunk of the canine family tree.
One branch contains the dogs of Asia (like the Shar Pei and Tibetan Mastiff). The other contains western, Eurasian breeds, including the Newgrange dog. But the DNA tells two interesting stories.
Scientists found evidence that one lineage of Asian dog did break off from the main line and migrate west between 6,000 and 14,000 years ago.
But here’s the surprise…the oldest fossil dogs in both geographic areas are older than that, so it’s likely that when this branch of Asian dog made its way west, there were domesticated dogs already there.
Some experts have concluded that dogs were domesticated twice, in two separate locations: western Eurasia and East Asia.
The Asian dogs that migrated west interbred with the western dogs already there. The line of dogs that remained in Asia is more genetically distinct and less interbred. The original ancient western dogs went extinct and experts say that only around 10% of their DNA exists in modern dogs.
If this theory proves correct, dogs would join pigs in the very small group of animals that have been domesticated twice in separate places. Many experts agree that Asian dog breeds have the most ancient DNA, and quite a few still argue that East Asia is the one place of origin for domestic dogs.
But there are others who advocate for the Eurasian origin theory, and now this dual-origin story is gaining ground.
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The bottom line? A definitive answer has not yet been discovered. Scientists are confident that more ancient DNA and fossil evidence will eventually tell us where and when dogs were first domesticated.
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