Dogs have been man’s best friend for centuries, ever since they were domesticated from wild animals. Now the Daily Mail is reporting that one archaeological excavation in southern Italy has unearthed dog remains that are between 14,000 and 20,000 years old. These really old remains are believed to belong to the oldest known domesticated dog, which would mean these remains are the oldest example of people keeping a pet.
Researchers with Italy’s University of Siena have concluded that the dog most likely was around roughly around the time that wolves were beginning to become domesticated pets by humans. Given that the remains were found pretty close to evidence of human settlements means that wolves may have begun to grow more trusting of humans out of a need for food. They would have ventured closer to human settlements as their food sources became used up, leading to them eventually becoming the hunting companions of humans.
Research has found that the distinction between domestic dogs and wolves began between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago. And scientists believe that this divide began when certain wolves adapted to working with humans. The leader of the research team who discovered and analyzed the remains, Dr. Francesco Boschin, said, “We believe that in the first stage of the domestication process it is always like that – domesticated animals are always smaller than wild ones. This is true for all mammals. In the case of dogs, we consider them to be pets, and this is the first evidence: Their smaller size.”
The dog remains were discovered across the Paglicci Cave and the Romanelli Cave, two Paleolithic caves that were inhabited by humans throughout the Ice Age which occurred between 40,000 and 14,000 years ago.
Dr. Boschin and his team published their research in Scientific Reports. The team noted that this period was of significant change for the wolf as it was a time when the pack predator had to find a new way of survival. While some tried to survive the way they always had, others found a new social order amongst humans by feeding off the scraps of these settlements.
The researchers continued in their study, writing, “Our combined molecular and morphological analyses of fossil canid remains from the sites of Grotta Paglicci and Grotta Romanelli, in southern Italy, attest of the presence of dogs at least 14,000 calibrated years before present. This unambiguously documents one of the earliest occurrences of domesticates in the Upper Paleolithic of Europe and in the Mediterranean.”
Dr. Boschin and his team are still trying to determine the exact age of the bones. But what they are guessing is that they’re nearly 20,000 years old! If that is the case, then man’s best friend is pretty old! What do you think of these findings? Let us know!