We all know that dogs descended from wolves but the exact origin of dogs, and when and where the transformation occurred, is still not clear –even in the scientific community. A huge research study aims to rectify the situation.
There have been a lot of published studies that claim to have determined the origin of dogs. In the past four years, researchers have identified Siberia, Europe, Central Asia and southern East Asia as dog domestication’s ground zero. Researchers have said the transformation happened at least 15,000 years ago, 18,800 years ago, and 33,000 years ago.
The conflicts are glaring and it is a hotly debated topic in the world of canine science.
Scientists are determined to find out where and when dogs REALLY originated. A massive global study is making a bold attempt to settle things by bringing together nearly all major canine researchers to gather and analyze thousands of ancient DNA samples and canine skulls.
The first findings of the project will come from the University of Oxford in Britain, and their results are expected to be rolled out this year.
“The results should help determine the wheres and whens— plural, because dogs might have been domesticated in different places at different times,” said Greger Larson, an American evolutionary biologist who is a leader of the effort.
Larson adds that the study will allow scientists to infer the answer to another controversial question: Did ancient humans tame wolves, or did wolves become our pals by following ancient humans and scavenging their scraps?
In an interview, Larson said the reason behind the confusion about canine origin is that much of canine genetics research is based on modern dogs – which are the result of thousands of years of mixing and breeding.
“All of which means that the global population of dogs is essentially one large bowl of tomato soup,” he said. “If all you have is the soup to go on, how do you infer the initial process of making that soup?Look at the past and watch it happen.”
The scientists involved in the project are doing that by creating a database of more than 1,500 DNA samples from ancient canine fossils collected all over the world – which are mostly kept in museums and universities.
They are also uploading thousands of photos of canine skulls to create computer-generated images of their morphology, or shape to see how wolf heads evolved into dogs.
The result is expected to offer something of a timeline and a map of transformation. Larson thinks that the patterns that emerge will lead to answers.
But the mystery on precisely how domestication happened is likely to continue sparking battles, he said.
There is one theory that says ancient humans had a “light bulb” moment when they decided to tame wolves, and took some puppies and went from there. But Larson thinks this is preposterous, because:
- People hadn’t yet domesticated other animals or plants 15,000 years ago, and
- Wolves probably wouldn’t have made that easy.
Larson favors another theory that he says “absolves humans of forethought and intention” and puts it in the paws of the wolves. According to this idea, the wolves followed hunter-gatherers around and scavenged their leftovers, and over time the gentler, nicer wolves got to stick around.
Larson is being praised for having gathered the sometimes snarling forces of the competitive dog research world, even though some of whose bold claims might end up undermined.
“It’s not dog-specific. It’s just science . . . If there’s a lot of potential answers, then you’ll have people fighting in their corner for their answers,” he said. “I just want to know the answer.”
Source: New York Post