Dogs as we know them today are descended from wolves – but scientists have puzzled over when humans first fed and tamed the wild beasts.
Was it a one-off event, or repeated multiple times in human history?
Genetic analysis of bones from the Gnirshöhle cave in southwestern Germany suggests that humans did domesticate dogs in and around the caves in the Hegau Jura area (and it could even have been the origin of dogs in Europe).
Dr Chris Baumann of the University of Tübingen said: “It is still not clear exactly when the transition from wolves to domestic and herding dogs occurred. Scientific estimates range between 15,000 to 30,000 years ago.
“The location where this transition from wild to domestic animals occurred also continues to be uncertain.”
Baumann and his team analysed bones from the cave, and found that there were large numbers of wolf lineages and also a full spectrum between wolves and dogs.
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The researchers concluded that the shift from wolves to domesticated dogs may have occurred there between 16,000 and 14,000 years ago.
Baumann said: “We linked the morphology, genetics, and isotope characteristics, which led to the discovery that the examined bones originated from numerous different genetic lineages, and that the new genomes sequenced from the samples cover the entire genetic range from wolf to domestic dog.”
The researchers believe that this shows that people tamed and raised animals that came from different wolf lineages.
Baumann said: “The closeness of these animals to humans and the indications of a rather restricted diet suggest that between 16,000 and 14,000 years ago, wolves had already been domesticated and were kept as dogs. One origin of the European domestic dogs could thus be found in southwestern Germany.”
The fossils found in the cave could even be the single origin of all modern dogs, the researchers wrote.
The researchers wrote: "A recent study focusing on the analysis of nuclear genomes of various ancient dogs suggested a single origin of modern dogs, but it failed to provide a geographic location for such an event.”
"While we cannot address the question of the domestication event's singularity, our results support the hypothesis that the Hegau Jura was a potential center of early European wolf domestication."
The researchers analysed fossils from dogs, wolves and foxes from the Gnirshöhle cave.
Baumann said: “The Gnirshöhle is a small, two-chambered cave in Southern Baden-Wuerttemberg that is located in the immediate vicinity of two additional caves from the Magdalenian epoch, an archeological cultural stage in the younger section of the Upper Paleolithic.”
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