Deep in the heart of Asia near the Russian and Mongolian border paleontologists and scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences uncovered the remains of an animal that could bring direct evidence as to the time at which ancient wolves evolved into dogs.
The surprise find was made during the 1970s in a cave known as Razboinichya in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. At the time, the scholars that found this now treasured fossil understood little more than they had found what was likely a very old canine fossil. However, recent research has indicated that the fossilized remains are the missing puzzle piece that tells the chronological history of “man’s best friend.”
Till that fateful find in the 1970s, the best preserved remains of a confirmed dog, also known as Canis Familiaris, dated back to the late Glacial to early Holocene Period. In other words, the evidence of dogs could only be traced to around 14,000 to 9,000 years ago. Go ahead, throw those numbers to the side.
Because of this one find, we now know that humans were most likely living with dogs as pets as early as 33,000 years ago. Before this dog was discovered in Siberia, paleontologists were almost at a loss when it came to when and how wolves actually transformed into dogs.
Most scientist and paleontologists believe that at some point, ancient wolves were lured to the camps of early human hunter-gathers because of left over meat from hunts and other discarded materials. For some reason, those wolves became comfortable around us humans and decided we weren’t all that bad. This scenario could have taken place in multiple locations around the globe at different times, but we’ve never had any direct proof. Now we do.
The Russian Academy of Sciences’s lead author on the subject was Yaroslav Kuzmin. The study conducted three separate radiocarbon dating tests at three separate laboratories. In the end the skull was confirmed to be 33,000 years old. That discovery blew the lid off of past theories.
The dog’s skull was examined and compared to wild wolves, domesticated dogs, and early canids. It was found to be similar in ever way possible to modern domesticated dogs, except for one trait. It’s teeth favored that of a wolf. According to the researchers, this suggests that this one dog was one of the partially domesticated wolves that was on the very brink of becoming an absolute pet. This is an almost miraculous find because most modern paleontologist believe that the ancient wolves that would become modern dogs evolved into domesticated dogs in just 50 to 100 years. This time-scale means that to find one of the animals that was in that transitionary phase in a solid, preserved, and fossilized form is about the equivalent of finding another planet able to sustain human life. It’s pretty amazing.
This fossilized 33,00 year old dog with wolves teeth is great. However, those traits alone couldn’t prove that this was a domesticated canine. The authors of this study were amazed by not only the age and type of animal this was, but also what was found with the remains.
Just steps away from the fossilized bones of the dog, the scientists found 33,000 year old burned twigs, suggesting that humans had a fire at this very location at the same time the dog lived in this spot. When we take into account the animal shared most of it’s features with the modern dog other than it’s wolf-like teeth and the evidence of a human camp present at the same location at the same time, we can conclude that this is proof that humans were already living with and on the verge of domesticating wolves 33,000 years ago, at least in this region of the world. This is the earliest evidence to date of dogs being used as pets anywhere on the planet.
While no DNA analysis has been conducted on the Russian dog yet, the authors of the study at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk have settled on the conclusion that this particular dog was very similar in overall size and shape to modern dogs native to Greenland. Although, they may or may not be related. They have revealed that the Russian dog probably looked much like the modern day Samoyed and died of causes that could not be determined.
While found many years ago in the 1970s, this paleontological discovery has changed everything we thought we knew about the evolution of wolves to dogs.
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