Modern Dogs Evolved From A Single Population of Wolves About 40,000 Years Ago


This dog cranium was discovered in Germany in 2010, next to Neolithic human remains. The skull is about 4,700 years old. Photo by Amelie Scheu

Research led by Krishna Veeramah at Stony Brook University on ancient DNA extracted from two 7,000-year-old and 4,700-year-old dog fossils discovered in Germany indicates modern dogs probably descended from just one population of wolves that lived continuously in Europe for millennia, sometime between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. They did this by counting the genetic differences, and estimating how long it would take for those differences to show up, they could roughly date when each of these groups split apart. A second divergence happened between Eastern & Western domesticated dog populations around 17,000 and 24,000 years ago.

This is where the 4,700-year-old dog skull was discovered, in a cave next to human remains. Photo: Timo Seregely

Exactly who domesticated these wolves, when, and how many times, is still a mystery and there’s a lot of recent research that conflict with the above finds. Last year, a 5,000 year old Irish dog fossil was studied by Oxford’s Greger Larson which showed signs that domestication happened not once, but twice: once in Europe, and once in Asia. As study in 2015 indicated the root of all dog domestication came from China, first, around 33,000 years ago, and a second phase started 18,000 years later in which the dog spread around the world. The new study was published today in Nature Communications.