Sunday, April 19, 2015

Scientists At Work- The Latest On Dog Domestication

Over at Science Magazine David Grimm has written a very informative article on the status of research on dog domestication. Its about the techniques being brought to bear on the question of the place and timing of dog origins and also about the scientists involved in the research, their pet theories and the conflicts within the field.

An excerpt:

Hulme-Beaman has spent the past 6 months traveling the world in search of ancient dog bones like this one. He's found plenty in this Ohio State University archaeology laboratory. Amid boxes stacked high with Native American artifacts, rows of plastic containers filled with primate teeth, and a hodgepodge of microscopes, calipers, and research papers, a few shoe and cigar boxes hold the jigsaw pieces of a dozen canines: skulls, femurs, mandibles, and vertebrae.

It's all a bit of a jumble, which seems appropriate for a field that's a bit of a mess itself. Dogs were the very first thing humans domesticated—before any plant, before any other animal. Yet despite decades of study, researchers are still fighting over where and when wolves became humans' loyal companions. “It's very competitive and contentious,” says Jean-Denis Vigne, a zooarchaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, who notes that dogs could shed light on human prehistory and the very nature of domestication. “It's an animal so deeply and strongly connected to our history that everyone wants to know.”

And soon everyone just might. In an unprecedented truce brokered by two scientists from outside the dog wars, the various factions have started working together. With the help of Hulme-Beaman and others, they're sharing samples, analyzing thousands of bones, and trying to set aside years of bad blood and bruised egos. If the effort succeeds, the former competitors will uncover the history of man's oldest friend—and solve one of the greatest mysteries of domestication.

The main points of contention:

a) did dogs originate in China around 15,000 years ago? this is based on the greater genetic diversity of East Asian breeds suggesting earlier origins than elsewhere, a notion that is opposed by some who say that diversity could reflect later migration.

b) did dogs originate in Europe/ West Asia? between 19,000 and 32,000 years ..  this is based on DNA comparisons of ancient and modern dogs and wolves from Europa and the America's which suggest that modern dogs are most similar to a now extinct population of wolves from Europe. This finding is criticized for its lack of samples of ancient dogs from China (there aren't any found as of yet) and for possible confusion in identifying ancients wolf  from ancient dog remains.

c) do unusual skeletons having wolf/dog mixed features as old as 30,000 from Belgium and Siberia represent ancestors of living dogs or extinct populations indicating failed attempts at domestication? ...  do these samples represent dogs at all or are they just strange looking wolves... a question that is now  being probed  used computer assisted morphological analysis.

there is plenty of think about..  read the full article here.

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