In 1975, Russian archaeologists, in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, unearthed a 33,000-year-old fossil skull that resembled that of a wolf.
So they assumed it was that of a wolf.
Turns out it’s not a wolf. It’s a dog.
And so the Champagne corks are popping in at the Russian Academy of Sciences, which made the discovery, and especially in the office of Anna Druzhkova, who led the team. The results were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.
To come to the finding, according to an article at Smithsonian.com, the team “sequenced mitochondrial DNA taken from one of the skull’s teeth” and compared it “with samples from 70 different modern breeds of dog, along with 30 different wolf and four different coyote DNA samples.”
What did they find? Dog — 33,000-year-old dog. Specifically, the DNA shared the most characteristics with Tibetian Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, and Siberian Huskies.
So, if you have one of those dogs, you just got cooler, thanks to Anna Druzhkova.
However, this whole dating-modern-dogs thing has been endlessly troublesome — and this finding doesn’t really help things.
“Scientists know that dogs evolved as a result of the domestication of wolves,” says the article, “but the specific time and location of this domestication is still poorly understood — and this discovery further complicates that picture.”
How so? “Dogs may have been domesticated from wolves multiple times, and this breed of Siberian dog may have actually gone extinct, rather than serving as an ancestor for modern dogs.”
Okay, fine. It might not be First Dog. But this also mixes up where scientists believe domestication first occurred, as this finding points to the “geographic spread” of dogs throughout Asia and Europe. Previously, scientists believed domestication occurred in the Middle East or East Asia.
“This skull could force scientists to rethink their theories,” says the article.
This DNA analysis does, however, set the age of modern dogs at 33,000 years. Previous DNA analysis of a different finding put the date at 16,000 years ago. That always seemed a bit thin to us.