Twenty-three thousand years ago, in the cold of the last ice age, some humans found a place where the climate was marginally better: Siberia.
While many people associate the region that is now in Russia with forbidding cold today, climate data as well as archaeological and DNA evidence show that this was where horses, mammoths and other prey animals found enough to eat, which attracted humans and other carnivores. Hemmed in by worse conditions, the humans, some of them the ancestors of Native Americans, were isolated for thousands of years. So were wolves.
It is there and then that dogs were first domesticated, according to a new hypothesis from a group of archaeologists and ancient DNA experts who specialize in the deep history of humans and canines. They published their analysis on Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Angela R. Perri, an archaeologist at Durham University who studies the domestication of dogs, said the new hypothesis emerged in informal discussions among the authors. As they assembled archaeological and DNA data on the peopling of the Americas and the origins of dogs, they came up with an idea that was lurking in the data all along, one that she said, “I’m frankly embarrassed I didn’t have earlier.”
David Meltzer, another author who is an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas specializing in the peopling of the Americas, recalled one whiteboard session at Oxford in which he and other authors, including Dr. Perri, brainstormed the complicated chain of reasoning based on DNA evidence that has allowed the tracing of population movement of ancient humans and more recently dogs.
He said to Greger Larson, an Oxford scientist who has orchestrated a number of dog domestication studies, including this one: “I’ve seen your dog dates. And my people dates, they kind of look the same.” By the time the whiteboard was filled, he said, they had the bones of the new paper. [Continue reading…]