Dogs were first domesticated in the Middle East 15,000 years ago, says new study

Below are excerpts from a NY Times article that highlights the findings of research that concludes that dogs were first domesticated about 15,000 years ago  in the Middle East. This article’s findings contradict the conclusions of earlier research that stated that dogs were first domesticated in the East Asia.

New Finding Puts Origins of Dogs in Middle East By Nicholas Wade

(NY Times March 17, 2010)

“Borrowing methods developed to study the genetics of human disease, researchers have concluded that dogs were probably first domesticated from wolves somewhere in the Middle East, in contrast to an earlier survey suggesting dogs originated in East Asia.

A research team led by Bridgett M. vonHoldt and Robert K. Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles, has analyzed a large collection of wolf and dog genomes from around the world. Scanning for similar runs of DNA, the researchers found that the Middle East was where wolf and dog genomes were most similar, although there was another area of overlap between East Asian wolves and dogs. Wolves were probably first domesticated in the Middle East, but after dogs had spread to East Asia there was a crossbreeding that injected more wolf genes into the dog genome, the researchers conclude in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

The archaeological evidence supports this idea, since some of the earliest dog remains have been found in the Middle East, dating from 12,000 years ago. The only earlier doglike remains occur in Belgium, at a site 31,000 years old, and in western Russia from 15,000 years ago. Several thousand years later, in the first settled communities that began to appear in the Middle East 15,000 years ago, people began intervening in the breeding patterns of their camp followers, turning them into the first proto-dogs. One of the features they selected was small size, continuing the downsizing of the wolf body plan. “I think a long history such as that would explain how a large carnivore, which can eat you, eventually became stably incorporated in human society,” Dr. Wayne said.

Dr. Wayne was surprised to find that all the herding dogs grouped together, as did all the sight hounds and the scent hounds, making a perfect match between dogs’ various functions and the branches on the genetic tree. “I thought there would be many ways to build a herding dog and that they’d come from all over the tree, but there are not,” Dr. Wayne said.

An earlier survey of dog origins, based on a small genetic element known as mitochondrial DNA, concluded that dogs had been domesticated, probably just once, in East Asia. The author of the survey, Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, said he was not convinced by the new report for several reasons, including that it did not sample dogs in East Asia from south of the Yangtze, the region where the diversity of mitochondrial DNA is highest. Also archaeologists in China have been less interested in distinguishing dog and wolf remains, he said.

Two other experts on dog genetics, Carlos Driscoll and Stephen O’Brien, of the National Cancer Institute, said they believed that Dr. Wayne’s team had made a convincing case. “I think they have nailed the locale of dog domestication to the Middle East,” Dr. O’Brien said in an e-mail message from Siberia, where he is attending a tiger management workshop.

Dog domestication and human settlement occurred at the same time, some 15,000 years ago, raising the possibility that dogs may have had a complex impact on the structure of human society. Dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors. Notions of inheritance and ownership, Dr. Driscoll said, may have been prompted by the first dogs to permeate human society, laying an unexpected track from wolf to wealth.”

***

See also these related links:

MtDNA data indicates a single origin for dogs south of Yangtze River, less than 16,300 years ago, from numerous wolves, Molecular Biology and Evolution, doi:10.1093/molbev/msp19

Dogs were probably domesticated in the Near East rather the East Asia (Dienekes’ Anthropology pub. date Mar 18, 2010 – retr. Feb 5, 2011)

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