The affection that binds us to Fido could have deeper roots than expected. The domestication of dogs could date back to 40 thousand years ago: in other words dogs could have accompanied the first Sapiens in migration and spread in Europe and Asia during the last Ice Age.
This is suggested by the genetic analysis of the bone of a wolf's rib lived in Taymyr, Siberia, 35 thousand years ago. The research was published in Current Biology.
Cloudy start. Establishing the exact historical moment in which dogs began to live with man, separating from their wolf progenitors, is not an easy task. Previous studies placed this phase between 10 and 30 thousand years ago in Europe, China and the Middle East. But the research of Pontus Skoglund, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, seems to date back to the genesis of this "love story".
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A nice surprise. Skoglund and colleagues examined the DNA of an artifact found under the permafrost of the Russian peninsula of Taymyr in 2010, and initially mistaken for a deer bone. Genetic and radiocarbon analysis revealed that the bone belonged to a wolf who lived about 35 thousand years ago.
Touch point. Given the age of the artifact, the researchers initially hypothesized that the Taymyr wolf had lived long before any domestication by man. But bone DNA shows similar affinities with that of modern wolves and modern domestic dogs.
Before expected. In practice, the bone had to be from a wolf (probably domesticated) lived around the same time that the ancestor of today's dogs separated from the ancestor of modern wolves.
Comparison with wolf DNA would lead one to think that the oldest common ancestor among wolves and modern dogs had lived 5, 000 years earlier.
Which would put the beginning of the friendship between man and wolves between 40 thousand and 27 thousand years ago, long before the domestication of other animals (such as pigs or chickens) and long before the man became sedentary, passing to a agricultural economy.
Additional crossings. Even after the separation from the wolves, dogs and wolves would have continued, on some occasions, to mate. This is demonstrated by the fact that Siberian huskies and Greenlandic dogs show a genetic inheritance more similar to that of wolves than other breeds (a characteristic that could have helped them survive in adverse weather conditions).
A useful ally. If the hypothesis were confirmed, we might think that the first domesticated dogs helped hunter-gatherers of the Ice Age survive the new conditions found outside Africa, and perhaps - but it is one of the most extreme and provocative hypotheses - to compete with the Neanderthals for food resources, helping the Sapiens in hunting parties.