Ancient Dog Skull Complicates the Story of Domestication

Points to more than one common ancestor
By Lisa Wogan, January 2012

A well-preserved skull discovered in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia has been identified as the 33,000-year-old remains of a domesticated dog—making it among the oldest evidence of domestication, according to a report originally published in Plos One.

The discovery means the story of domestication as happening in a single place needs to be revised. It looks very much like domestication happened repeatedly in different geographic areas and who knows how far back.

Although the shortened snout and widened jaw in the Siberian skull offer clear evidence of domestication, this dog is not an ancestor of the modern dog. Nor are equally ancient dog remains discovered earlier in a cave in Belgium. These lines appear not to have survived the last great ice age (which began about 26,000 years ago).

I’m intrigued and excited by the idea that humans were living with dogs—for protection, companionship, help on the hunt—not just in many places but well before other animals were domesticated for agricultural use. The science continues to make the case for a very deep relationship.