They’re some of our most constant companions, but there’s a lot we don’t know about when dogs were first domesticated, where the process happened, and what the first domesticated dogs even were.Studies on the subject have proven highly inconclusive, with estimates for the first domestication ranging from 9,000–34,000 years ago. Not only is that a huge gap, but it leaves a lot of unanswered questions as to how it happened. Dogs on the most distant end of that scale would have been associating with hunter-gatherer groups, while the more recent instances of domestication would have been happening when the human race had already discovered agriculture and settled into a more sedentary lifestyle.
Researchers from the University of Turku have isolated DNA from some of man’s early canine companions with some staggering implications. Some of the oldest DNA samples were taken from dogs that were living alongside humans around 33,000 years ago and were traced through to dogs that lived in Greenland about 1,000 years ago. But this particular DNA seems to be unrelated to today’s dogs, and it’s now suggested that some of the “dogs” that were domesticated for thousands of years weren’t the same as today’s dogs and were instead a sort of sister species. Ancient dogs have been found in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, but it’s still not known if the idea of domestication spread from one area to the other or occurred independently in all areas. If it did, it’s not known who was first.