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Man and dog: where did domestication occur?

Man and dog built their special relationship millennia ago through the gradual process of domestication of the wolves. From an initial sporadic contact between humans and canines the relationship evolved to one of real collaboration for mutual survival. A fascinating puzzle which has been missing some key pieces concerning where the domestication took place, the focus of recent research.


This ‘meeting’ of man and dog: where did it occur?

To conclusively establish the place where the crucial domestication of the canine first occurred, scholars at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, conducted a study, which was recently published in the scientific journal PNAS. The subjects of the research were so-called village dogs, stray dogs that over the centuries were able to mate without any limitations. In particular, they examined genetic samples from 549 dogs from 38 nations and examined DNA samples from 4,676 pure-bred dogs encompassing 161 breeds, even looking at the chromosomes the animals inherited from both parents for more accuracy. With 185,805 genetic markers available, scholars reconstructed the route taken by the domestic dog throughout the world concluding that the friendship was probably first forged in an area near Nepal and Mongolia in central Asia. From there, the research showed that domestication spread to India and south west and eastern Asia. An interesting result since theories that emerged from previous studies positioned this meeting in Europe and southern China.


Wolf and man, an ancient relationship

Wherever the centuries-old relationship formed, we should not forget that the initial contact took place between man and wolf. The latter approached man to establish a mutual hunting collaboration – a quid pro quo: the canids tracked and hunted the prey while the humans fought off dangerous carnivores. Can we talk about opportunism? In the words of biologists, this is commensalism, a kind of symbiosis in which one species derives a benefit while the other does not suffer damage. A collaboration that is far removed from the modern day man-dog relationship and that teaches us, once again, that although dog and wolf have notable differences, they both have admirable features.

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