Central Asia: Where Dogs Were First Domesticated

wolfOur canine companions can trace their family tree all the way back to the noble Gray wolf. It is thought that our hunter-gathering ancestors tamed these intrepid predators for protection, which eventually evolved into the unshakable bond and companionship we share today.

But, the answer to where we domesticated them has always eluded us. Even if you ask dedicated dog owners and wolf experts where exactly humans domesticated wolves, they’d be hard pressed to pinpoint where… until now. A new study shows that Central Asia may be where humans first domesticated dogs.

Canine Domestication

Humans domesticated dogs over 15,000 years ago, and a new study shows that the location was in Central Asia. Laura M. Shannon and Adam R. Boyko from Cornell University, as well as an international group of scientists, studied purebred dogs and mongrels and analyzed over 185,000 genetic markers and determined that it first occurred somewhere in Central Asia.

This goes in contrast with some of the oldest dog fossils that originated from Western Europe and Siberia. The genetic material the scientists uncovered seemingly supersedes these, pinpointing the area where ancestral dogs were first domesticated.

The data is further supported by five of the nine most ancient dog breeds that are in the Asian group of dogs that shows past admixture with Chinese wolves. These include the Chow Chow, Akita, Shar Pei, the New Guinea Singing Dog, and the Dingo.

dogDr. Boyko said, however, that in the world of dog studies, very little is definitive. Although dogs can ultimately trace their origins to an ancestor that lived in Central Asia, he did not rule out the possibility that wolves were domesticated elsewhere and subsequently died out. Dogs themselves may have travelled from Central Asia and settled elsewhere, diversifying into all the canines alive today.

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A Messy Origin Story

Dr. Larson said that the origins of modern dogs are “extremely messy” and that the data from Central Asia may require further testing. He added that while samples of living populations may be helpful in determining the location where dogs were first domesticated, ancient DNA should also be taken into account.

About 15,000 years ago, human hunter-gatherers may have roamed and hunted the Asian steppes with Gray Wolves. The study posits that a combination of climate change, decrease in available prey for the wolves, as well as advanced blade hunting techniques by humans may have forced wolves to turn into scavengers until they became fully reliant on scraps, paving the way to domestication.