The landmark new study of the DNA of early domesticated dog reveals there were many different types of the animal more than 11,000 years ago – the period following hot on the heels of the last Ice Age. The researchers sequenced ancient DNA from 27 dogs from across Europe, the Near East and Siberia Steppes.
The international archaeological team from the Francis Crick Institute, University of Oxford and University of Vienna, found there were already at least five different types of dogs with distinct genetic ancestries by this point.
Some of the variation you see between dogs walking down the street today originated in the Ice Age
Dr Pontus Skoglund
Their conclusion is all the more profound as this occurred long before any other animal had been domesticated.
This suggests how diversity observed between dogs around the world today originated when all humans were still at the hunter-gatherer stage.
Dr Pontus Skoglund of the Crick’s Ancient Genomics laboratory and the study’s author said in a statement: “Some of the variation you see between dogs walking down the street today originated in the Ice Age.
“By the end of this period, dogs were already widespread across the northern hemisphere.”
This cutting-edge research of ancient genomics involved extracting and analysing DNA from canine skeletons.
And this intricate process provided a rare window into the past.
This allowed archaeologists to track evolutionary changes, despite the fact they occurred many thousands of years ago.
The scientific team realised how over the last 10,000 years or so, early dog lineages mixed and moved, giving rise to the dogs we know and love today.
For example, early European dogs were initially diverse, appearing to originate from two particularly distinct populations.
One was almost certainly related to Near Eastern dogs, while another belonged to Siberian dogs.
However, at some point, such diversity disappeared and is no longer present in the European dogs of the present day.
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Dr Anders Bergström, co-author at Crick’s Ancient Genomics laboratory, said: “If we look back more than four or five thousand years ago, we can see that Europe was a very diverse place when it came to dogs.
“Although the European dogs we see today come in such an extraordinary array of shapes and forms, genetically they derive from only a very narrow subset of the diversity that used to exist.”
The researchers also compared the evolution in dog history to changes in human evolution, lifestyles and migrations.
And in numerous cases, comparable changes were found to have occurred.
Scientists now suspect this likely reflects how early man would bring their dogs with them as they moved around the world.
However, to complicate matters more, there were also examples when human and dog histories do not match up.
One example reflects the loss of diversity which existed in dogs in early Europe was caused by the spread of a single dog ancestry replacing other populations.
But this dramatic event is not mirrored in human populations, meaning it remains a mystery what caused this transformation in European dog ancestry.
Greger Larson of the University of Oxford and co-author, said: “Dogs are our oldest and closest animal partner. Using DNA from ancient dogs is showing us just how far back our shared history goes and will ultimately help us understand when and where this deep relationship began.”
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