News / Science & Technology

DNA Reveals Dogs First Tamed in Prehistoric Europe

FILE - Siberian Huskies rest before their next trip as part of a dog team with tourists who are taking a part in an arctic safari at Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi, northern Finland.
FILE - Siberian Huskies rest before their next trip as part of a dog team with tourists who are taking a part in an arctic safari at Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi, northern Finland.
Reuters
Humans first made dogs their best friends in prehistoric Europe, where groups of hunter-gathers learnt to tame dangerous wolves into companions between 19,000 and 32,000 years ago, scientists said on Thursday.

The new research, based on analysis of DNA fragments from fossils of ancient wolves and dogs, confounds earlier theories that dogs were originally domesticated in the Middle East or East Asia.

Experts generally agree that dog training started out with a few gray wolves hanging around human encampments in the hope of picking up scraps. Over time, humans accepted them, perhaps initially as guards or hunting partners, and taught them to be useful companions.

Where and when this happened, however, has been a matter of controversy.

Now Olaf Thalmann, from Finland's University of Turku, and colleagues believe they have placed initial doggy taming firmly in Europe after finding that modern dogs' DNA most closely matches that of either ancient European canines or modern European wolves, but not wolves outside Europe.

“We're pretty sure that Europe played a major role in the domestication of the dog,” Thalmann, whose research was published on Thursday in the journal Science, said in an interview.

The fact that dogs were domesticated so early in Europe means they joined human society when people were still hunter-gathers rather than farmers.

As a result, Thalmann believes the first “proto-dogs” might have taken advantage of carcasses left on site by early human hunters, as well as helping them catch prey and providing defense against competing predators at kills.

The genetic analysis carried out by his team was based on mitochondrial DNA - a common tool for tracking ancestry - that was extracted from fossils of eight ancient dogs and 10 wolves.

This was compared to genetic samples from 130 modern dogs and wolves, leading the researchers to conclude that the first dogs originated in Europe from a population of gray wolves that is now extinct.

Mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mothers to daughters, changes little from generation to generation. By studying it, scientists are able to calculate when populations or species start to separate genetically. But it does not provide a complete genetic picture, leaving some uncertainty.

While the early dogs that socialized with tribes of hunter-gathers would have looked very similar to wolves, the vast variety of breeds evident around the world today is a function of more recent human activity, experts believe.

“Modifying a wolf into a Chihuahua is clearly a long process and most of the active breeding has happened in just the last few hundred years,” Thalmann said.

You May Like

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs