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Palaeontology: Old bones teach new lessons about dog domestication

Scientific Reports

February 5, 2015

Reanalysis of skulls thought to belong to the earliest dogs demonstrates that they were in fact wolves and not dogs. The findings, published in Scientific Reports this week, provide more evidence to help determine the timing of dog domestication.

Whether dogs were domesticated during the Paleolithic era, when humans were hunter-gatherers, or during the Neolithic era, when humans began to form permanent settlements and began farming, is a subject of ongoing debates. Two Paleolithic skulls - an approximately 31,680 year-old specimen from Goyet, Belgium, and a roughly 14,000 year-old specimen from Eliseevichi, Russia - were previously identified as dogs, which implied that dog domestication occurred prior to the Neolithic. However, Abby Grace Drake and colleagues propose that the measurements used to classify the skulls may not have had high enough resolution to differentiate between dogs and wolves. They reassess the specimens using a detailed whole 3D skull analysis and compare them to the skulls of modern dogs and wolves, concluding that the Paleolithic skulls are definitively wolves and not dogs.

These results support recent genetic studies that have also contended Neolithic origins of dog domestication. The authors suggest that combining genetic data with 3D skull analysis could help to reclassify other fossils from the canid family and provide more evidence to address the origins of dog domestication.

doi: 10.1038/srep08299

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