Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Descent of Dog

I'm fascinated by the evolution of the dog, a creature with a remarkably flexible genome and a survival strategy the cuckoo must envy. The BBC gives us an update:
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Exploring the wolves in dogs' clothing

.... According to DNA studies, domestic dogs owe their origins to a wolf cub that probably fell into the hands of humans some 40,000 years ago somewhere in Southeast Asia.

... "Originally, according to DNA samples, it would appear that the domestic dog is most closely related to the grey wolf.

"Point-two-percent is the difference between domestic dog DNA and grey wolf DNA, whereas the difference between coyote DNA and dog DNA is 4%.

... Experts are divided on how wolves first entered the lives of humans. Some believe that a band of hunter gatherers took wolf cubs back to their caves, perhaps to act as early guard dogs.

Others believe that wolves adopted people - creeping ever closer to human settlements to scavenge on discarded food.

By about 15,000 years ago, at the time of the last Ice Age, they were probably living alongside humans, perhaps retrieving wild animals felled with axes or bows and arrows.

The earliest archaeological evidence of dogs as true pets dates back to 12,000 to 14,000 years ago.

That is the estimated age of the remains of an old woman holding a puppy in her hand excavated in what is now Israel.

... Inside a glass case is the skeleton of an Early Bronze Age dog dug up in Tell el-Duweir near Jerusalem - the site of the ancient city of Lachish.

"Finds like these are really interesting for scientists because they give us clues as to how and when dogs became domesticated," says Dowswell.

"Although this is a relatively late example - examples have been found dating back as far as 15,000 years ago, the end of the last Ice Age - it seems that the dog skeletons they are finding are similar to wolf skeletons but much smaller.

"As a reduction in size is one of the first signs of domestication, and the fact that it's been found in a human settlement, this shows us pretty clearly that that's what's going on."
There's a very long interval between when "dogs" divide from wolves and when they become pets. Shortly after they're known to be pets humans begin building civilizations.

No comments: