Dogs have loved us for thousands of years, despite humanity’s many flaws and foibles. New research suggests dogs were domesticated from wolves just once—that’s all it might have taken for puppers and people to form an everlasting alliance.
The study, which was published online yesterday in Nature Communications, analyzed the genomes of two ancient German doggos—one 7,000 years-old and the other 4,700 years-old. The researchers compared their dog DNA data to the genome of a 4,800 year old dog from Ireland that other scientists had studied in 2016, and to modern dog genomes. In that study, published last year in Science, researchers put forth a “dual origin” idea that dogs were domesticated from wolves on two separate occasions, in Europe and Asia. But in this recent study, researchers wrote their ancient doggos “predominantly share[d] ancestry with modern European dogs.” In other words, there might have actually been a single origin, although the precise location where dogs were first domesticated is still somewhat of a mystery.
“We came to the conclusion that our data consisting of prehistoric three Neolithic genomes and DNA from thousands of modern dogs from across the world supported only a single domestication event from a group of wolves somewhere in Eurasia sometime between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago,” co-author Krishna Veeramah, an assistant professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, told Gizmodo. “In addition, most of the dogs people keep as pets today are likely genetically the descendants of the dogs that lived amongst the first European farmers 7,000 years ago, and perhaps even as far back as 14,000 years ago when people were still practicing a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.”
Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated by humans. Anyone who owns a cat can tell you that felines were definitely domesticated long afterward. While this new study won’t end the argument over how many times dogs were domesticated, it does offer a compelling, simple solution.
“One the face of it you might think, ‘why is it important that there was one, two, three or even four domestication events?” Veeramah explained. “But if you’re trying to find out how and why it occurs, whether it was one or more is important. Humans and wolves have likely lived in the same region for maybe 40,000 years. So if the process of domestication only occurred once, this tells us it was likely very hard to do.”
Humanity is constantly evolving, and has reinvented and embarrassed itself so many ways over the course of thousands of years. But in this ever-shifting nebula of chaos we call life, at least one thing remains true: the dogs are good.