Dog Fossils

The bulk of the scientific evidence for the evolution of the domestic dog stems from morphological studies of archaeological findings and mitochondrial DNA studies. The divergence date of roughly 15,000 years ago is based in part on archaeological evidence that demonstrates the domestication of dogs occurred more than 15,000 years ago, and some genetic evidence indicates the domestication of dogs from their wolf ancestors began in the late Upper Paleolithic close to the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary, between 17,000 and 14,000 years ago. But there is a wide range of other, contradictory findings that make this issue controversial. There are findings beginning currently at 33,000 years ago distinctly placing them as domesticated dogs evidenced not only by shortening of the muzzle but widening as well as crowding of teeth.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the latest point at which dogs could have diverged from wolves was roughly 15,000 years ago, although it is possible they diverged much earlier. In 2008, a team of international scientists released findings from an excavation at Goyet Cave in Belgium declaring a large, toothy canine existed 31,700 years ago and ate a diet of horse, musk ox and reindeer.

Prior to this Belgian discovery, the earliest dog bones found were two large skulls from Russia and a mandible from Germany dated from roughly 14,000 years ago. Remains of smaller dogs from Natufian cave deposits in the Middle East, including the earliest burial of a human being with a domestic dog, have been dated to around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.There is a great deal of archaeological evidence for dogs throughout Europe and Asia around this period and through the next two thousand years (roughly 8,000 to 10,000 years ago), with specimens uncovered in Germany, the French Alps, and Iraq, and cave paintings in Turkey The oldest remains of a domesticated dog in the Americas were found in Texas and have been dated to about 9,400 years ago. Read more ...

In the News ...

  Dogs: (Prehistoric) Man's Best Friend   National Geographic - March 18, 2016
University of Alberta scientists have uncovered in Siberia prehistoric graves containing dog remains carefully buried with decorative mementos or alongside the canines' human owners. The finds - dated to be 5,000 to 8,000 years old - reveal that dogs were held in high esteem even in ancient times and that humans used these animals as both personal and work companions.

Domestication of dogs may explain mammoth kill sites and success of early modern humans   Science Daily - May 30, 2014
A new analysis of European archaeological sites containing large numbers of dead mammoths and dwellings built with mammoth bones has led to a new interpretation of these sites -- that their abrupt appearance may have been due to early modern humans working with the earliest domesticated dogs to kill the now-extinct mammoth.

Ancient Puppy Paw Prints Found on Roman Tiles   Live Science - April 17, 2014

The paw prints and hoof prints of a few meddlesome animals have been preserved for posterity on ancient Roman tiles recently discovered by archaeologists in England. The artifacts, which could be nearly 2,000 years old, were found in the Blackfriars area of Leicester, the English city where the long-lost bones of King Richard III were discovered under a parking lot in 2012. [In Photos: Animal Prints on Ancient Roman Tiles]

Dogs Likely Originated in Europe More Than 18,000 Years Ago, Biologists Report   Science Daily - November 14, 2013

Wolves likely were domesticated by European hunter-gatherers more than 18,000 years ago and gradually evolved into dogs that became household pets."We found that instead of recent wolves being closest to domestic dogs, ancient European wolves were directly related to them," said Robert Wayne, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in UCLA's College of Letters and Science. This brings the genetic record into agreement with the archaeological record. Europe is where the oldest dogs are found.

DNA hint of European origin for dogs   BBC - November 14, 2013
The results of a DNA study suggest that dogs were domesticated in Europe. No-one doubts that "man's best friend" is an evolutionary off-shoot of the grey wolf, but scientists have long argued over the precise timing and location for their emergence. The new research, based on a genetic analysis of ancient and modern dog and wolf samples, points to a European origin at least 18,000 years ago.

Dogs Domesticated 33,000 Years Ago, Skull Suggests   Live Science - March 6, 2013

A canine skull found in the Altai Mountains of Siberia is more closely related to modern domestic dogs than to wolves, a new DNA analysis reveals. The findings could indicate that dogs were domesticated around 33,000 years ago. The point at which wolves went from wild to man's best friend is hotly contested, though dogs were well-established in human societies by about 10,000 years ago. Dogs and humans were buried together in Germany about 14,000 years ago, a strong hint of domestication, but genetic studies have pinpointed the origin of dog domestication in both China and the Middle East.

Ancient Dog Skull Shows Early Pet Domestication   National Geographic - August 19, 2011
It took 33,000 years, but one Russian dog is finally having its day. The fossilized remains of a canine found in the 1970s in southern Siberia's Altay Mountains is the earliest well-preserved pet dog, new research shows. Dogs - the oldest domesticated animals - are common in the fossil record up to 14,000 years ago. But specimens from before about 26,500 years ago are very rare. This is likely due to the onset of the last glacial maximum, when the ice sheets are at their farthest extent during an ice age. With such a sparse historical record, scientists have been mostly in the dark as to how and when wolves evolved into dogs, a process that could have happened in about 50 to a hundred years. In the case of the Russian specimen, the animal was just on the cusp of becoming a fully domesticated dog when its breed died out.

Ancient dog skull unearthed in Siberia   BBC - August 3, 2011
very well-preserved 33,000 year old canine skull from a cave in the Siberian Altai mountains shows some of the earliest evidence of dog domestication ever found. But the specimen raises doubts about early man's loyalty to his new best friend as times got tough.

Oldest Domesticated Dog in Americas Found - Was Human Food   National Geographic - January 19, 2011
People in North America were breeding and eating domestic dogs as early as 9,400 years ago, according to new analysis of a bone fragment discovered in a Texas cave. Scientists were able to identify the bone about the size of an adult's pinkie nail as a piece of the right occipital condyle of a canine. Occiptal condyles are parts of vertebrate skulls where the skull meets the spine. Genetic tests later proved that the bone comes from a dog and not a wolf, coyote, or fox.

World's first dog lived 31,700 years ago, ate big   MSNBC - October 17, 2008
An international team of scientists has just identified what they believe is the world's first known dog, which was a large and toothy canine that lived 31,700 years ago and subsisted on a diet of horse, musk ox and reindeer, according to a new study. The discovery could push back the date for the earliest dog by 17,700 years, since the second oldest known dog, found in Russia, dates to 14,000 years ago. Remains for the older prehistoric dog, which were excavated at Goyet Cave in Belgium, suggest to the researchers that the Aurignacian people of Europe from the Upper Paleolithic period first domesticated dogs. Fine jewelry and tools, often decorated with depictions of big game animals, characterize this culture.