More than 20,000 years ago, primitive men (and women) in Asia and Western Europe domesticated wolves and man’s best friend was born. With his help, humans settled into domesticated life, and the world changed forever.
The Domestic Dog May Date Back 36,000 Years!
Researchers have recently uncovered DNA evidence that dogs were domesticated from the grey wolf in two parts of the world, Asia and Western Europe. Although a precise date cannot be determined (dogs and other canids have been interbreeding for so long, their DNA lineage is difficult to unscramble), fossils of what appear to be domesticated dogs go back as far as 36,000 years!
No one knows how or why wolves were domesticated. Perhaps the wolves followed humans around and ate from their refuse. Perhaps they naturally fell into a hunting partnership with humans. One thing is clear: their domestication proceeds the domestication of any other animal by as much as 10,000 years, and sparked the advent of agrarian life in humans, a critical step in man’s domination of the world. At the time of the domestication of the wolf, the entire global human population was little more than 1 million. Today we are more than 8 billion strong and alongside us the entire time has been the dog.
Primitive men and women presumably selected for the most obedient, controllable dogs that lived with them and interbred them. In a study done in Russian in the 1950’s, geneticist Dmitry Belyaev proved just how easy this process could have been. He selected wild foxes for a breeding program based on the way they behaved when their cage door was opened. If the foxes were less likely to cower in fear and were more responsive to humans, they were interbred. The others were eliminated from the breeding program. The results were extraordinary. In only four generations, the pups’ ears went from upright to flopping down, puppy traits of playfulness extended into adulthood, the puppies wagged their tails when they encountered humans, and the foxes became more sensitive to the vocal and physical cues of their human handlers. Foxes turned into something much like a modern, domesticated dog.
If the theory of simultaneous domestication is true, it is believed that today’s modern dog is most likely a descendent from the Asian line of dogs, the western line falling victim to extinction or near-extinction for reasons unknown.
Ruler or Partner?
As we move into 2018 and ever-more vital questions about the stewardship of our society and our planet, it’s worth noting that man isn’t here because of his ability to dominate the earth, but to partner with another species to tame it. That loveable dog, on your bed, in your lap, and hanging out the window of your car, has been by your side for tens-of-thousands of years. Let’s find ways to partner with other species to last a few hundred thousand more.