A dog is man's best friend. You've heard this before. But do you know how far back this bond really goes? Scientists have revealed that this relationship dates back almost 33,000 years, when wolves struck harmony with homo sapiens somewhere in south east Asia.
- The first ever study of dog genomes revealed that the first domesticated creatures descended from China's grey wolves. The discovery put an end to the long-standing scientific puzzle as to when wild wolves were first tamed.
- It was earlier believed that dogs descended from European wolves who were domesticated over 10,000 years ago in West Asia, possibly to guard livestock.
- But the latest study has found that domestication of wild wolves began much earlier - long before the development of agriculture.
What the study revealed
- In an interesting study Professor Peter Savolainen - of Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology - and his colleagues studied the genomes of 58 members of the dog family - including grey wolves and indigenous dogs from south-east Asia, among others.
- The study revealed it is possible an "ecological niche unique in southern East Asia" provided an refuge for both humans and the ancestors of dogs during the last glacial period, with a peak between 26,500 and 19,000 years ago.
- The study of Chinese indigenous dogs hinted that their predecessors might have become domesticated after following humans on their hunts.
- Around 15,000 years ago, a subset of dog's ancestors from China began migrating towards the Middle East and Africa, reaching Europe around 10,000 years ago.
- This migration is believed to have been associated with the movement of humans. However, the movement of these canine ancestors from south-east Asia may have been caused by environmental factors - including retreating glaciers.
- Dogs from one of these groups then travelled back towards northern China, where they encountered Asian dogs that had migrated from south-east Asia. These two groups interbred, before spreading to the Americas.
What remains unanswered
Several basic aspects about the origin and evolution of the domestic dog are still in dispute. Scientists are still split over the birthplace of domestic dogs, and over the estimations of the date of divergence between wolves and dogs of between 32,000 and 10,000 years ago.