New evidence reveals that dogs may have started being domesticated around 15,000 years ago, as the animals evolved from wolves right around the time when humans were establishing their first settlement areas.
Utilizing advanced 3D imaging technology for the analysis of fossil skulls, a study published in the Nature Scientific Reports reveals that dogs emerged much more recently than what was previously thought, with studies suggesting that dogs evolved as far back as 30,000 years ago during the late Paleolithic age.
Skidmore College biologist Abby Grace Drake, a co-author of the new study, said that there is abundant evidence which show that dogs emerged in the more recent Neolithic age.
"The dog remains from the Neolithic are found buried with humans and adorned with ornaments such as necklaces of deer teeth," said Drake to CBS in an interview.
Drake explained that during the Neolithic, humans began to build settlements that had "dumps," which were piles of food and human waste. Some scientists believe that the wolves that came to scavenge at the dumps and were tolerable of the presence of humans stayed at the settlements.
Drake, with Michael Coquerelle of the University Rey Juan Carlos and Guillaume Colombeau of the University of Bordeaux, studied a pair of dog skulls as old as from 32,000 years ago that were acquired from Belgium and Russia. The findings were then compared to the skulls of over 100 other dog and wolf breeds.
The comparison found that the pair of dog skulls was actually wolf skulls, questioning the theory of dogs being domesticated since 30,000 years ago.
The new 3D technique used on the skulls was able to better see differences in the skulls, along with the little details that were previously unidentified. Before, the measurements were taken using only a traditional caliper, and were unable to see variations in angles of the orbits and the muzzle.
"Scientists have been eager to put a collar on the earliest domesticated dog. Unfortunately their analyses weren't sensitive enough to accurately determine the identity of these fossils. The difference between a German shepherd skull and a wolf skull is subtle - you need to measure it in 3D to reliably tell which is which - and the same is true for these fossils," said Drake in a statement.
Some scientists, however, are not too quick in accepting the findings of Drake and her team. University of Turku's Olaf Thalmann said in an e-mail to CBS that "every new measurement of the remains reveals a different story."