Research shows dogs to be oldest human companions

Research shows dogs to be oldest human companions
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A DNA analysis conducted on dogs revealed that “man’s best friend” may also be the oldest human companions.

The study, which examined the DNA of dogs, showed that human domestication of dogs can be traced as far back as 11,000 years, to the end of the last Ice Age, confirming that they have been human companions before any other animals.

Dog domestication and diversity

The researchers found that during this time, dogs were widespread across the northern hemisphere and had already separated into five different types.

They also determined that despite the expansion of European dogs during the colonial era, traces of these ancient indigenous still remain in parts of the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania.

Dr. Pontus Skoglund, co-author of the study and group leader of the Ancient Genomics laboratory at London’s Crick Institute, said: “Dogs are really unique in being this quite strange thing if you think about it, when all people were still hunter gatherers, they domesticate what is really a wild carnivore – wolves are pretty frightening in many parts of the world.”

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“The question of why did people do that? How did that come about? That’s what we’re ultimately interested in,” Dr. Skoglund added.

According to the study, dog genetic patterns mirror those of humans to some extent as people take their dogs with them when they moved but there are also some critical differences.

In particular, early European dogs were were initially diverse, with possible origins from two very distinct populations, one related to Near Eastern dogs and another to Siberian dogs, but later a single dog lineage spread widely, replacing all other dog populations in Europe perhaps after the onset of the Bronze Age.

This is different from the genetic patterns of people from Europe.

Lead author Anders Bergström, a post-doctoral researcher at the Crick, explained: “If we look back more than four or five thousand years ago, we can see that Europe was a very diverse place when it came to dogs. Although the European dogs we see today come in such an extraordinary array of shapes and forms, genetically they derive from only a very narrow subset of the diversity that used to exist.”

DNA analysis

The study involved analyzing the whole genomes of 27 ancient dog remains associated with a variety of archaeological cultures and compared these to each other and to modern dogs.

Results show that dog breeds such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback in southern Africa and the Chihuahua and Xoloitzcuintli in Mexico still have genetic traces of ancient indigenous dogs from the region.

Meanwhile, dog ancestry in East Asia is complex as some Chinese breeds seem to derive some of their ancestry from animals like the Australian dingo and New Guinea singing dog, while the remaining breeds come from Europe and the Russian steppe.

Greger Larson, a co-author from the University of Oxford, said: “Dogs are our oldest and closest animal partner. Using DNA from ancient dogs is showing us just how far back our shared history goes and will ultimately help us understand when and where this deep relationship began.”

Dr. Skoglund said it was unclear when or where the initial domestication occurred. He explained: “Dog history has been so dynamic that you can’t really count on it still being there to readily read in their DNA. We really don’t know – that’s the fascinating thing about it.”

“For dogs, it could almost have been anywhere: cold Siberia, the warm Near East, South-East Asia. All of these are possibilities in my mind,” he added.

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