An international team of paleontologists reported the discovery of one of the oldest known and confirmed fossils of an early dog in the March 6, 2013, open access peer reviewed journal Public Library of Science.
Dogs are hypothesized to have been domesticated as early as 100,000 years ago but the oldest known fossils of modern dogs are only about 36,000 years old.
DNA extracted from a tooth and the lower jaw of the “Altai dog” skull were compared to the DNA of wolves, present day dogs, and the fossils of known domesticated dogs from the Middle East and Asia. Mitochondrial DNA indicated that this fossil was more closely related to dogs found in Russia and the Americas than it was to wolves.
The discovery indicates that the early domestication of dogs was not centralized in the Middle East or East Asia as previously thought but began much earlier in Siberia. Little evidence exists for the Middle Eastern origin of the Altai dog fossil. DNA comparisons preclude a Middle Eastern origin of the Altai dog fossil.
This discovery also indicates the early Americans may have brought domesticated dogs with them across the ice bridges between present day Russia and Alaska when ancient peoples first ventured into the Americas. The Altai Mountains are the location of the Denisova Cave that was the residence of the Denisova hominin 40,000 years ago.
Citation: Druzhkova AS, Thalmann O, Trifonov VA, Leonard JA, Vorobieva NV, et al. (2013) Ancient DNA Analysis Affirms the Canid from Altai as a Primitive Dog. PLoS ONE 8(3): e57754. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057754