Dogs first tamed in prehistoric Europe, DNA reveals

Thu Nov 14, 2013 2:15pm EST
 
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - Humans first made dogs their best friends in prehistoric Europe, where groups of hunter-gathers learnt to tame dangerous wolves into companions between 19,000 and 32,000 years ago, scientists said on Thursday.

The new research, based on analysis of DNA fragments from fossils of ancient wolves and dogs, confounds earlier theories that dogs were originally domesticated in the Middle East or East Asia.

Experts generally agree that dog training started out with a few grey wolves hanging around human encampments in the hope of picking up scraps. Over time, humans accepted them, perhaps initially as guards or hunting partners, and taught them to be useful companions.

Where and when this happened, however, has been a matter of controversy.

Now Olaf Thalmann, from Finland's University of Turku, and colleagues believe they have placed initial doggy taming firmly in Europe after finding that modern dogs' DNA most closely matches that of either ancient European canines or modern European wolves, but not wolves outside Europe.

"We're pretty sure that Europe played a major role in the domestication of the dog," Thalmann, whose research was published on Thursday in the journal Science, said in an interview.

The fact that dogs were domesticated so early in Europe means they joined human society when people were still hunter-gathers rather than farmers.

As a result, Thalmann believes the first "proto-dogs" might have taken advantage of carcasses left on site by early human hunters, as well as helping them catch prey and providing defense against competing predators at kills.   Continued...

 
A dog yawns as it looks at people passing by at a street in central Madrid April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Susana Vera