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Man and Man’s Best Friend Might Go Way, Way Back — Further Than Previously Thought

"Dogs may have been domesticated much earlier."

Man and his canine best friend have a long history together, but new research suggests it could be even longer than previously thought.

A study published in the journal Current Biology this week reports on genetic analysis of a Taimyr wolf bone — a common ancestor between modern wolves and dogs — puts the relationship between humans and dogs as potentially occurring between 27,000 to 40,000 years old. Earlier estimates suggested that modern-day dogs diverged from wolves only about 16,000 years ago.

According to a news release about the study, the Taimyr wolf bone, which was found in Siberia's Taimyr Peninsula, was radiocarbon dated at 35,000 years old.

The Taimyr wolf bone next to a laboratory pipette. (Photo credit: Love Dalen)

This, Love Dalen with the Swedish Museum of Natural History, suggests that "dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than is generally believed."

"The only other explanation is that there was a major divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of these populations subsequently gave rise to all modern wolves," he said in a statement.

Though, "it is possible that a population of wolves remained relatively untamed but tracked human groups to a large degree, for a long time," Pontus Skoglund with Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute added.

Nature reported that geneticist Laurent Frantz from University of Oxford said he doesn't necessarily think that an evolutionary split between wolves and modern dogs indicates that's when they were domesticated. Robert Wayne with the University of California, Los Angeles, told Nature that his team's range for possible domestication of dogs occurred between 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.

In addition to the possibility of their being an earlier relationship between man and dogs, the researchers found a large number of genes shared between the Taimyr wolf and Siberian Huskies and Greenland sled dogs.

"The power of DNA can provide direct evidence that a Siberian Husky you see walking down the street shares ancestry with a wolf that roamed Northern Siberia 35,000 years ago," Skoglund said. "This wolf lived just a few thousand years after Neanderthals disappeared from Europe and modern humans started populating Europe and Asia."

Front page image via Shutterstock.

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