Ancient Canine Remains Closer To Domesticated Dogs Than Wolves
March 7, 2013

Ancient Siberian Canine Skull More Closely Related To Fido Than His Wild Wolf Cousins

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A recent genetic analysis has shown that a 33,000-year-old canine skull found in Siberia is more closely related to today´s domestic dogs than the wolves of its time, according to a report in the online journal PLOS ONE. The finding could have major implications for understanding how modern day labradoodles and peekapoos were bred from wild dogs over thousands of years.

The skull was first found in 1975 by a team of Russian archaeologists in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. After discovering the fossil, the team initially said that it resembled the skull of a wolf. In 2011, however, an“¯anatomical analysis by an international team of scientists“¯proposed that the fossil was a hybrid of a wolf and a domestic dog. Yet another theory stated that the skull belonged to a domesticated wolf, as evidence has shown that wolves were drawn to human settlements at the time. This would have made it one of the oldest known ancestors of modern dogs.

In order to expand on these findings and attempt to resolve the debate, a new team of scientists recently decided to perform a comprehensive genetic analysis on the skull. The team, led by Anna Druzhkova of the Russian Academy of Sciences, extracted mitochondrial DNA by grinding parts of a tooth and the jaw into powder. Mitochondrial DNA is a fairly reliable way to distinguish relationships among species as it is inherited directly from the mother and remains relatively constant over generations compared to nuclear DNA.

After performing a genetic analysis on the bone and tooth powder, the results were compared to the mitochondrial genetic sequences of 72 dogs, 30 wolves and four coyotes, along with 35 prehistoric specimens. The analyses showed that the DNA most closely resembled modern dog breeds like“¯Tibetan Mastiffs,“¯Newfoundlands“¯and“¯Siberian Huskies.

"These results suggest a more ancient history of the dog outside the Middle East or East Asia, previously thought to be the centers where dogs originated,” wrote the authors in their report.

Previous studies have suggested that dogs may have been domesticated multiple times across different locations, and it´s possible that this particular breed of Siberian dog has since gone extinct. Some evidence indicates that humans in Siberia may have stopped“¯domesticating dogs around 26,000 years ago due to the last ice age and the hardships and food shortages that came with it.

However, according to the genetic analysis of this 33,000-year-old skull,“¯domestication“¯in this region of the Altai Mountains may have led to the domestication of dogs elsewhere in Asia and Europe, even if this particular breed never made it out of Siberia.

The finding also conflicts with some previous theories that say the first canine domestications occurred in the“¯Middle East“¯or“¯East Asia. In their report, the researcher said that finding more ancient dog remains will help to solve the historical puzzle of dog domestication.

While the skull found in the Altai Mountains is quite old, it isn´t the oldest. The Goyet dog, found in Belgium, is 36,000 years old. That dog´s story is still very much under scrutiny. If the analysis of the Altai skull holds up to scrutiny, it would make them the second-oldest remains of a domesticated dog ever found.