Study: Men & Dogs First Became Best Friends in the Middle East

By Andrew Moseman | March 18, 2010 12:08 pm

DogReflectionAt some point in evolutionary history dogs diverged from wolves thanks to domestication by humans. But just where did dogs first become man’s best friend? Robert Wayne and his team have many years invested in answering the question, and their newest findings, published this week in Nature, suggest that the answer is the Middle East.

Researchers looked at gene segments from 912 dogs, from 85 breeds, and samples of 225 grey wolves, dog’s close cousins who they evolved from in prehistory, from 11 regions [USA Today]. Dogs and wolves that come from the Middle East, Wayne says, show the most genetic similarity. The researchers propose that dogs were first domesticated there, and then spread outward.

Dogs and wolves are closely related enough that they have interbred at various times, complicating the problem of unraveling dogs’ origin. Wayne’s team suggests that after the domestication of dogs in the Middle East, they interbred with wolves when they reached East Asia, which is how dogs and wolves there came to share some of their genetics.

Indeed, previous research had suggested East Asia as the origin of dog domestication, as breeds from there showed the most genetic diversity. But Wayne says those papers focused on a small subset of DNA called mitochondrial DNA, instead of looking across all 2.4 billion letters that make up the dog genome [NPR]. But Peter Savolainen, one of the scientists arguing for East Asia, says he wasn’t moved by Wayne’s new study. Savolainen says it did not sample dogs in East Asia from south of the Yangtze, the region where the diversity of mitochondrial DNA is highest. Also archaeologists in China have been less interested in distinguishing dog and wolf remains, he said [The New York Times].

So this study won’t be the final word. But what’s not in doubt is the importance of dogs to early human civilization (that is, once the domesticators selected for small body size and other characteristics you’d want to make best friend that doesn’t eat you). Dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors [The New York Times].

Related Content:
80beats: Where Did Dogs First Become Man’s Best Friend?
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80beats: Hairless Dogs Give Up the Genetic Secret of Their Bald Glory
DISCOVER: The Genetics of… Dogs
DISCOVER: Ascent of the Dog

Image: flickr / mikebaird

  • Lynne Robbins

    “Men and dogs….” Give me a break. How do you know it wasn’t ‘women’ who domesticated the dog? Why is this innate sexism still broadcasting itself? Why couldn’t you have worded the headline, “Humans and dogs….” At least then it’s implied that women are part of the equation.
    Recently I had a discussion with my 10 year old granddaughter about the way women are downgraded in the language of publications and programming by the continual use of the term ‘man’ to speak of all humanity. She not only has noticed this but is angry about it. She’s 10!
    I am disgusted with Discover.

  • Gil

    @1 you’re joking, right? The headline, beyond normal English preference to using male gender in indeterminate circumstance, is based upon the common addage ‘a man and his dog are best friends.’

  • Doug

    It has to be a joke. Nobody who would voluntarily read a science magazine could be that close-minded.

  • Cory

    I am, sadly, quite sure she is serious.

  • Russ Finley

    Parasitism has played a major role in evolution. What direction will dog evolution take now that they are moving from mutualism to parasitism? In many parts of the world they no longer help us move our genes into the future.

  • Rain

    @Lynne Robbins, for realz? Or a really good troll. Geez.

  • cgray

    Lynne probably thinks Barry isn’t incompetent, just misunderstood. Kook.

  • thirteenfingers

    I think that the title of the article is in reference to the old saying “A dog is a man’s best friend.”, much like saying “Diamonds are a woman’s best friend.”. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I would be offended in the least if there was an article exploring when women and diamonds became such good buddies.

  • Jennifer Angela

    One woman says something intelligent and everybody else attacks her…. Folks, this is ugly behaviour!

  • Jay Fox

    Um, dogs are a (hu)man’s best friend? The usage of the word man, in this instance, could be considered a contraction, a shortening of the word human. That is the usual usage of this term. It is not sexist. It is a way of using smaller words to convey an idea in limited space.

    I’m surprised the “libbers” haven’t tried to change our species’ name to huwoman.

  • Kelly

    Is this better ? Study: Women and Dogs First Became Best Friends in the Middle East. It doesn’t quite mean the same thing.
    Maybe that’s because: “Men” is referring to mankind, not a specific gender.

  • torres

    Angela, people are not reacting to the intelligence of #1’s comment, but rather the unintelligence and hyper-sensitivity she is portraying. I hope that #1, if she really is as liberated from men as she believes, teaches her granddaughter to be able to do things that men do, even simple things like move a box that is heavy or use tools. I get sick of my manhood qualifying me as being the only one capable, among my women peers, of doing these things at my job. Sorry this has nothing to do with dogs though. hahaha.

  • terra incognita

    one of my professors used to joke about when ‘dog’s domesticated humans’. i guess there’s more than a few exceptions judging from the current comments.

    but seriously, his point is that often our social behaviors are affected by our means of subsistence and there’s an argument to be made that the canine pack mentality is more egalitarian (to its members obviously) than chimps, our closest (extant) genetic ancestors, and that may have influenced the social behavior of early humans who were cooperatively hunting (pre & post domestication) with dogs/wolves.

  • Camille

    I agree w/ Lynne Robbins. The title of this article is a sad & idiotic throw-back to the pre-70s era. Writers nowadays should be more intelligent. It’s also incredibly sad that her bringing up such a glaring error causes her to be termed a ‘troll’. Jay Fox: it’s really offensive to ‘Um’ someone, esp., as in this case, you are wrong. ‘Man’ is *not* a contraction of ‘human’. It’s a linguistic term based on the antiquated patriarchal concept that men *are* the human race. Check out the etymology of the word in this Wiki article: There are endless examples from 20th century, Victorian times, etc., etc., e.g. ‘I now pronounce you man & wife’, Time Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ (which was used, amazingly, up until 1999). In the 70s & 80s, society was becoming more progressive & the changing terms in language reflected that. How sad that we have back-slid to the extent that young people today don’t even *get* the importance of progressivism & egalitarianism.

  • Camille

    Another example of the change in society & language & recent back-slide is the 60s Star Trek intro. ‘Where no man has gone before’, which changed in the 80s to ‘Where no one has gone before’, then back in the 2000s to the original phrase.

    Sorry for gettin pissy, but using the term ‘man’ these days to be synonymous w/ ‘humans’ is antiquated & offensive.

    Personally, as an anthropologist w/ a hard science background, I am very interested in the history of humans, as well as in the population genetics of various species, but– as I’m sure many others were– was put off by the offensive title of this article. Is this just a ‘blog’ or is it aspiring to be an actual scientific (tho of course, lay) article? If the latter, it should be held to professional standards.

  • rahhr

    #1 is a retard

  • Christelle Sneider

    It’s so incredible how fast does genetic science develop!! I still can’t believe how could they possibly determine such a fact, by just analyzing DNA!

    @ Camille : Thank you so much for drawing our attention to such an important thing: the difference between “man” and “human”.

  • Thelma harrison

    @#1 : Get ur head out ur !@s and try not to make ur granddaughter paranoid.

    @camille: U are even worse. and u claim to be an antropologist. Since the use of Man to refer to mankind is antique and offensive like u claim, what then should be used???

    Sooo Stupid!!!

  • Billy Bob

    Let me tell you something lynn Robbins, you don’t done know nothin bout what u tellin’ your granddaughter. What you sayins wrong. it aint called “humans and dogs” for a damn good reason. that reason is that Men became friends with dogs first way back in the damned ole’ stoneage for the soul purpose of being alerted by the dog when danger was approaching them. The MEN then fought off the dangerous animals to the death, if need be, to protect the women and children from viscious predators such as Sabertooth cats and Lions. the way men (not women) first befriended the dogs was by throwing scraps of food to them in order to keep them close to camp so they could hear their barks and growls in time to prepare for a wild animal attack. Maybe you should explain that to your granddaughter. Stop being a sexist your self and appreciate what prehistoric Man did so you might comfortably be here today.

  • Dennis

    Here is what I don’t really understand, what the hell is the big deal with the title of the article? Study: Men & Dogs First Became Best Friends in the Middle East. It always seems like women have something to prove, or feel like the “white man be keepin’ em down”. Just deal with the title of the article and go with it. It’s really not that big of a deal, you people are just making it a big deal.


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