Just About When Did Dogs Become 'Man's Best Friend?' Scientists Can't Make Up Their Minds

First Posted: Mar 09, 2015 12:44 PM EDT

Dogs have earned the phrase "man's best friend" for quite some time. They've believed to have been domesticated since 15,000 years ago, evolving from wolves just about when humans were making their first settlements.

Yet did you know that these creatures were likely domesticated sooner than previously thought? New findings presented in Nature Scientific Report show that dogs may have evolved as early as 30,000 years ago during the late Paleolithic period, when humans were hunter-gatherers.

With the help of 3D imaging to analyze several fossil skulls, Abby Grace Drake, a biologist at Skidmore College and one of the co-authors of the latest study, found overwhelming evidence that skulls, along with genetic and cultural evidence, could lead to more recent evidence that dogs were around during the Neolithic period.

According to Drake, the 3D technology helps to distinguish between wolves and dogs in a way that has never been captured before. Previously, scientists had only been able to differentiate skull measurements between dogs and wolves via caliper.

"The 3D technology captures these subtle shape changes very well," Drake noted, via CBS News

"I have been using this 3D technique on dogs and wolves for my previous studies so I already had a very large database of skulls to compare the fossils to," she added, according to the news organization. "Since I had this database I was curious as to how these early fossils would compare. Would they appear as primitive dogs? Dog-wolf hybrids? I was surprised when I discovered they were shaped like the wolf skulls."

Researchers reiterated that during this period, it would have been possible that the environment could have fostered a sustained selection for permanent establishments and the beginning of dog's domestication. 

"We employ 3D geometric morphometric analyses to compare the cranial morphology of Goyet and Eliseevichi MAE to that of ancient and modern dogs and wolves. We demonstrate that these Paleolithic canids are definitively wolves and not dogs," Drake and colleagues noted, in a news release. "Morphologically, these early fossil canids resemble wolves, and thus no longer support the establishment of dog domestication in the Paleolithic."

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