Dogs are regarded as a “man’s best friend”. But did you know that this may have been so for over 30 centuries, perhaps even before the Ice age?
Recently scientists found a 33,000 year old dog skull in a cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia. Another dog skull has also been discovered in Belgium which is thought to be at least 30,000 years old. These are the oldest known evidence of dog domestication. These discoveries have changed the thinking about the origin of dogs.
Before these skulls were discovered, it was believed that dogs became domesticated (began living with man and lost their wild ways) only about 12000 to 15000 years ago. They were also believed to have evolved from a single ancestor. Because the two skulls have been found so far apart, scientists now rethink that modern dogs may have several different ancestors. Could it be that dogs and man have lived together at various places around the world all through history?
Establishing the age
It is fascinating the way scientists figure out the age of dead plants and fossils. They use a method known as carbon dating. In nature, carbon can be found in three different forms- C12, C13 and C14. C14 is radioactive – that means, it is continuously emitting radiation and decaying and losing strength. C14 loses half its strength every 5730 years. This property of radioactive materials is called half life. By measuring the amount of C14 left in the skull, scientists were able to tell that the dog skull was 33,000 years old.
Evolution of dogs
Dogs are known to have evolved from wolves. Researchers know this because of the similarities in their behavior and looks. Since wolves live and hunt in the wild they have longer snouts, thinner jaws and spaced out teeth. However when dogs came to live with humans, they lost their ability to live in the wild and began to depend on humans. They adapted and developed shorter snouts, wider jaws and crowded teeth. The arrangement of the snout and teeth give clues to the scientists that the fossils belong to domesticated dogs.
Domestication of Dogs
Dogs are pack animals. They bond and interact with other dogs and humans. Dogs are also known to be den animals as they are comfortable relaxing in enclosed areas such as a crate.
When we think of domestication, cows and sheep come to mind. It may be surprising for you that dogs were probably the first animals to be domesticated by humans. In the early days when man lived in forests and hunted for food, dogs were a hunting partner because of their keen sense of smell. Over time, when man settled down and began to farm, dogs helped humans with many chores such as herding cattle. When he invented sleds and other mechanisms of transportation, dogs would pull them. In recent times, dogs act as human companions, household pets, service and guide dogs and police dogs.