The other day I was greeted by an email from a friend stating that a paper published that day in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) confirmed an idea I first got in How the Dog Became a Dog : The Last The glacier maximum served as a crucial phase in the development of a characteristic dog morphology that distinguished them from wolves. During this time, animals and plants took refuge in areas that were sheltered from the bitter cold. My theory was that if you could find refuges where wolves and humans were in close proximity during that time, you could find out where the animals we now recognize as dogs appeared. I also suggested that humans and their dogs set off after the ice retreated from its maximum extent.
Angela Perri, a zoo archaeologist at the University of Durham, England who writes for six colleagues from different institutions, identifies Northeast Siberia as that area. About 23,000 years ago, it is said, a refuge there supported herds of large ungulates, the plants they grazed on and the carnivores that hunted them, including wolves and humans. She presents the case where humans and their dogs pushed themselves into this new terrain and quickly dispersed from around 15,000 years ago when the ice melted and ice-free corridors opened on the American continent that are believed to be uninhabited . Other people and dogs scattered westward, but their story is not what Perri and her colleagues tell. The research team offers extensive analyzes of genetic material from old dogs and humans, which it then compares with available physical evidence from humans and dogs throughout the New World.
This paper provides core genetic data from early dog remains in the Americas that have been linked to human remains, reinforcing the case that people who came to the New World came with dogs. The data are compelling, but the overarching idea put forward by the authors is hardly new. In 2011 I discovered that the last Ice Age maximum was a central point in the development of the dog, precisely because the characteristic dog morphology was genetically determined. At that time, I also stated at length that I was using evidence from archaeologists, geneticists, and paleogeographers. My goal was to identify a time and place when humans and wolves were in sufficient numbers to form a lasting alliance, since you cannot have a wolf that is not domesticated by anyone. I have identified several refuges as possible areas where this could have happened. This included likely mixed zones where people would congregate to trade. Regardless of whether domestication took place in one or more locations – and it could easily be more, because domestication is ultimately both a cultural and a biological event – the practice of living with wolves has been passed on from generation to generation, and so has continuity the wolves make relationship more possible than genes.
I have also suggested, as I have often done since then, that there is compelling, but not abundant, evidence that the association between wolves and hominins – our ancestors – has existed for hundreds of thousands of years.
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I say that knowing that it is certain to be controversial or immediately dismissed, but I would like to point out that new discoveries in anthropology and evolutionary genetics have always helped push back critical dates in human development – for example, making fire, speaking , Art, music and domestication of the wolf.
It is true that ideas cannot be protected by copyright. However, if an idea or point of view on a question is new, the person who is driving it should be quoted. It’s not just ethical, it’s a form of intellectual courtesy. I am disappointed that despite the fact that I have communicated with at least two of the authors of this paper in the past – I even shared a seat with one of them on NPR’s Science Friday a decade ago – they do not do me that courtesy or realize that much of what they put forward uses the same methodological approach that I pioneered, putting dogs and humans in the same place at the same time. Nor do they acknowledge that the argument they are making is in line with the ideas I put forward years ago. In fact, Perri said it was a “new hypothesis” when he spoke to a New York Times reporter and another writer told the reporter that the hypothesis came from a “brainstorming session” over a blank whiteboard, that quickly filled with their ideas. In my opinion, this is either insincere or a sign of a lack of knowledge of the previous literature.