Fossil samples that were once thought to have been the earliest dogs have been reanalyzed, and now researchers are saying that they were just wolves. This pushes the tentative time of canine domestication forward to less than 10,000 years ago.
That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, which details how cutting-edge 3D mophometric analyses of the skulls previously identified as "dog" fossils from the Paleolithic era (2.6 million years ago to 10,200 BC) have turned out to actually be small wolf remains.
"We did confirm that the Neolithic specimens Shamanka II (around 7,372 years old) and Ust'-Belaia (about 6,817 years old) are dogs, and therefore domestication took place by this time period or earlier," the study's lead author, Abby Grace Drake, first explained to Discovery News.
And that actually makes a lot of sense. Past canine domestication theories have centered around the idea that early hunter-gatherers could have used canine companions to guard their camps and corner prey. However, that would have required a great many early humans to be talented 'wolf-whisperers,' so to speak. What's more, these constantly moving pet owners then would have needed enough readily available food to support breeding their animals.
Instead, it seems far more likely that the domestication of dogs happened during the Neolithic era (10,200 BC - 2,000 BC), when permanent settlements would have established circumstances that encourage traits associated with domestication. For instance, a canine with an intrinsically calmer demeanor around humans would be more likely to earn handouts than an aggressive predator. Well fed, that calmer canine would be more likely to reproduce, passing its demeanor on to its offspring.
"Wolves are far too dangerous to have around without adequate means of controlling them," Drake added. "It is more likely that the initial stages of domestication involved at least several generations of wolves breeding in proximity to humans, lured by the 'dumps' that were present near the first permanent human settlements."
Other experts have argued that while Drake is probably right about the timing of dog domestication, there is no concrete evidence that the great majority of dogs came from wolves at all. After all, there are a great many other canine species in the world, with wolves simply being the most memorable.
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