This Genetic Analysis Just Changed How We View The Origin of Dogs

Written by David Myers on
Happy Dog with Tongue Out and Head Tilt
Source: Shutterstock / The Dog Photographer

We’ve all heard the basics of Man’s Best Friend: their descent from wolves, the selective breeding, and their domestication into friendly pets. But a surprising study suggests that the latter may have played out differently than previously suspected; according to research published in the journal Science, dogs as we know them may have been domesticated twice, in two different locations!

Previous beliefs about the origin of dogs have held that they were domesticated only once, though scientists had not been able to agree upon the exact location or time. Researchers agreed that the domestic dog first appeared somewhere around 15,000 years ago, but was split as to whether its domestication initially occurred in Europe or Asia. The new study, aptly titled “Genomic and archaeological evidence suggest a dual origin of domestic dogs,” argues that archaeological data, in conjunction with genetic analysis of both ancient and modern-day mitochondrial DNA, reveal the possibility that dogs “may have been domesticated independently in Eastern and Western Eurasia from distinct wolf populations.”

Researchers found key evidence in a 4,800-year-old mid-sized dog discovered in a Neolithic tomb in Ireland. Incredibly, they were able to extract beautifully-preserved DNA from the specimen, allowing them to plot out the genetic split between dogs from each region. Once combined with the archaeological evidence, this new dual-origin story was born.

The researchers plan to continue their work, focusing on improving the overall timeline of domestication and clarifying its geographic locations.