A recent study has revealed that dogs were domesticated just once, squashing previous claims that it was twice, between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Author of the study published in Nature, a palaeogenetecist at Stony Brook University in New York, believes that everyone has their own idea about where and when dogs originated. “Archaeologists suggest one and geneticists suggest another, people are always getting very different answers,” he said. 

Attempting to specifically pinpoint a time and location for dog domestication has been an ongoing challenge, largely due to contradictory or incomplete evidence. It should be noted that the new research substantiates previous research of this taking place as far as 40,000 years ago.

Genetic data reflects that the ancestors of all modern dogs is split into two populations, one that gave rise to East Asian breeds and another that would become modern European, South Asian, Central Asian and African dogs. Researchers however, have been unable to locate when this split happened in time.

In an attempt to chase the origin of modern dogs, Veeramah and his colleagues studied the genomes from Neolithic dog fossils found in different parts of Germany – ranging from a period 7,000 years ago, and one from 4,700 years ago.

The researchers estimate that dogs and wolves diverged genetically between 36,900 and 41,500 years ago, and that eastern and western dogs split 17,500–23,900 years ago. Because domestication had to have happened between those events, the team puts it somewhere from 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.

These dates highlight the need for a dual-origin domestication explanation which was suggested in a study last year. During this study, the team suggested that because the split occurred thousands of years after the first known appearance of dogs in Europe and East Asia, there must have been two instances of domestication that happened around that same time.

Pontus Skoglund, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusettss, added, “We really don’t know where dogs were domesticated and as far as we can tell it happened once.” The authors have recognised that the work will not settle the dispute over when and where humans and dogs originated.

“If we can add in other ancient samples from all around the world, it’ll give us a more comprehensive picture of population history and likely dog origins,” said Adam Boyko, a geneticist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Veeramah’s research mainly sits with researching ancient humans, but believes that learning more about the origins of modern dogs can help with his main interest. “Dogs and humans have an important history together,” he concluded.

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