NEW YORK (AP) — For years, scientists have been dogged by
this evolution question: Just where did man's best friend first appear?
The earliest known doglike fossils come from Europe. But DNA studies have
implicated east Asia and the Middle East. Now a large DNA study is lining
up with the fossils, suggesting dogs originated in Europe some 19,000 to
32,000 years ago.
Experts praised the new work but said it won't end the debate.
Scientists generally agree that dogs emerged from wolves to become the
first domesticated animal. Their wolf ancestors began to associate with
people, maybe drawn by food in garbage dumps and carcasses left by human
hunters. In the process they became tamer, and scientists believe people
found them useful for things like hunting and guard duty. Over a very long
time in this human environment, wolves gradually turned into the first
The latest attempt to figure out where this happened was published online
Thursday by the journal Science.
Researchers gathered DNA from fossils of 18 ancient wolflike and doglike
creatures that lived up to 36,000 years ago in Argentina, Belgium,
Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the United States. They compared the
genetic material to modern samples from 49 wolves from North America,
Asia, Europe and the Middle East, 77 dogs of a wide variety of breeds
including cocker spaniel, basenji and golden retriever, and four coyotes.
The DNA of modern dogs showed similarities to the genetic material from
the ancient European specimens and modern-day European wolves, the
The first dogs evolved by associating with hunter-gatherers rather than
farmers, since dogs evidently appeared before agriculture did, they said.
"There are now, based on genetic evidence, three alternative hypotheses
for the origin of dogs," said Robert Wayne of the University of
California, Los Angeles, a study author.
He said his results suggest a better case for Europe than for east Asia or
the Middle East. He also said the kind of wolf that gave rise to dogs is
Olaf Thalmann of the University of Turku in Finland, another author, said
the work doesn't mean that Europe is the only place where dogs emerged.
"We conclude that Europe played a major role in the domestication
process," he said in an email.
The work makes a strong argument for an origin in Europe, although it
might not be the only place, said Greger Larson of Durham University in
England, who did not participate in the research. "I think it's a real
step in the right direction."