Sunday, May 24, 2015

Split Between Domesticated Dogs and Wolves Much Earlier Than Previously Thought

As long as there have been preserved written words, the close connection between the Goddess and dogs/canines has been recorded -- extremely ancient "legends" dating back to times thousands of years before written languages were invented to record them.  Similar connections exist between the Goddess and cats/felines and the Goddess and cows/bovines.  Somewhat later but still extremely ancient connections also exist between the Goddess and horses and the Goddess and birds. 

My fascination with the link between the Goddess and canines is not only related to my love for dogs, it is also rooted in the link of the Invisible Hand of the Goddess via dogs to ancient board games.  It therefore comes as no surprise to me that the boundaries of our understanding of the ancient link between womankind in particular, because it was most likely women who first domesticated canines, is being consistently pushed further and further back into "herstory" both by ongoing discoveries and re-examination and re-interpretation of earlier discoveries. 

Here's the latest, from the Science Section of The New York Times:

Family Tree of Dogs and Wolves Is Found to Split Earlier Than Thought

The ancestors of modern wolves and dogs split into different evolutionary lineages 27,000 to 40,000 years ago, much earlier than some other research has suggested, scientists reported Thursday.

The new finding is based on a bone fragment found on the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia several years ago. When scientists studied the bone and reconstructed its genome — the first time that had been done for an ancient wolf, or any kind of ancient carnivore — they found it was a new species that lived 35,000 years ago.

Based on the differences between the genome of the new species, called the Taimyr wolf, and the genomes of modern wolves and dogs, the researchers built a family tree that shows wolves and dogs splitting much earlier than the 11,000 to 16,000 years ago that a study in 2014 concluded.

Their study also gives some dog-park bragging rights to owners of Siberian huskies and Greenland sled dogs, which have inherited a portion of their genes from the Taimyr wolf.

The history of dogs is still murky, however, because it seems that different kinds of wolves and dogs have interbred at different times in different places over the past tens of thousands of years.

Love Dalen, of the Swedish Museum of Natural History and an author of the report in Current Biology, said that the simplest explanation for the new evidence “is that dogs were domesticated as much as 30,000 years ago.”

But, he said, the researchers’ work does not prove that this is what happened. Pontus Skoglund, a research fellow at Harvard University and the first author of the research paper, said, “We can’t just look at the DNA and say whether a canid was living with modern humans.”

Laurent Frantz, a researcher at Oxford who also studies canine evolution, said that he thought the work was “a great milestone in studying wolf populations,” although he said the timing of the domestication of dogs remained unclear.

The bone fragment was found by Dr. Dalen a few years ago when he was collecting fossils of ancient mammals on the Taimyr Peninsula. He said that for one unidentifiable fragment, he wrote in his field notebook, “Reindeer?”

But genetic tests showed that that fragment belonged to a wolf, and subsequent carbon dating put it around 35,000 years old. At that point, Dr. Dalen said, Dr. Skoglund suggested sequencing the genome.

As to the impact of the new research, Dr. Dalen said, “I think it would be presumptuous to assume that it would settle anything, given how contentious the field is.”
Contentious indeed!  Only think what fields of inquiry this latest research might lead to -- for instance -- cross-cultural contact among previously allegedly "distinct and isolated" populations of human beings on a scale that many (most) experts would find hard to accept, allowing for the cross-breeding of various species of domesticated canines.  Of course, cross-cultural contact among allegedly isolated populations where their doggies are making whoopie with each other also suggests the possibility that humans may also have been taking advantage of the novelty of making whoopie with the visitors.  And then there is the issue of cross-cultural trade over seemingly impossible distances, which evidence suggests did take place.  Hmmm....

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