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Oldest remains of the modern dog in Croatia found near Zadar

Croatia dogs

Dalmatian dog 

Over the millennia, dogs have developed into a faithful guardian, hunter, pet, and even a therapist. But where did the dog come from, to Europe and Croatia? 

A new study published in the prestigious scientific journal Science entitled ‘Origins and genetic legacy of prehistoric dogs’ answers precisely these questions. 

As Vecernji list reports, it should be emphasised that in this research, led by scientists from the University of Oxford, the Francis Crick Institute, and the University of Vienna, experts from four Croatian institutions also participated – dr. Sc. Dragana Rajković from the Archaeological Museum Osijek, Ph.D. Daria Ložnjak Dizdar from the Institute of Archeology in Zagreb, Ph.D. Maja Pasarić from the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research in Zagreb and dr. Sc. Mario Novak from the Institute of Anthropology in Zagreb.

“Dogs were the first domesticated animal, likely originating from human-associated wolves, but their origin remains unclear. Bergstrom et al. sequenced 27 ancient dog genomes from multiple locations near to and corresponding in time to comparable human ancient DNA sites (see the Perspective by Pavlidis and Somel). By analyzing these genomes, along with other ancient and modern dog genomes, the authors found that dogs likely arose once from a now-extinct wolf population. They also found that at least five different dog populations ∼10,000 years before the present show replacement in Europe at later dates. Furthermore, some dog population genetics are similar to those of humans, whereas others differ, inferring a complex ancestral history for humanity’s best friend,” the report states. 

“According to the results of genetic research, it is most likely that the direct ancestor of the modern dog today is an extinct population of the late Ice Age wolf. Modern dogs did not evolve from the same lineage of the genus Canis from which modern wolves originated as this research has shown, and the similarity between today’s dogs and grey wolves is most likely due to their genetic mixing. The genetic separation between these two species occurred approximately 27,000 and 40,000 thousand years ago, i.e. just before or during the last glacial maximum,” dr. Sc. Mario Novak told Vecernji list.

Dogs and man in Croatia

A link between an ancient American dog and a coyote and between an African dog and an African golden wolf has been proven, but the sample is too small to determine who has more whose genes. Breeds are a slightly different story. Dog diversity was initially influenced by wolf populations in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Siberia, and East Asia, or more at the same time. These are, therefore, the ancient ancestors of today’s dogs. 

“Sequencing the ancient genomes of 27 dogs from Europe, the Middle East and Siberia, some of which lived almost 11,000 years ago, revealed that in that period, ie immediately after the Ice Age, there were already at least five species of dogs of different genetic origins. Dogs from Europe from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods appear to originate from two very different populations, one associated with Middle Eastern dogs and the other with Siberian dogs. Research has shown that over the last 10,000 years these early breeds have mixed and created the dogs as we know them today. Although the European dogs we know today come in a whole range of shapes and variations, they are genetically descended from a very small group that once existed, Dr. Novak explained.

How did the dog get to Croatia, where are the first traces in Croatia of today’s faithful domestic animal?

To my knowledge, the oldest known remains of a modern dog in Croatia have been recorded in the Early Neolithic layer at the Crno vrilo site near Zadar. The bone remains of a dog (a fragment of the lower jaw and two teeth) from this site are approximately 7500-8000 years old. In a study published in the journal Science, the ancient genomes of dogs from Croatian archaeological sites were sequenced for the first time. These are two dogs: one originates from the Aljmaš – Podunavlje site, where a pit was explored within the Copper Age settlement (around 2600-2400 BC) in which ritual burials of cattle and a dog only a few months old were discovered; in the second case it is about the site Sotin – Srednje polje was on the edge of the Copper Age settlement a pit was explored (around 3000-2900 BC) in which a dog about one-year-old was buried. In both cases, they are very young individuals, males that are genetically very similar. According to their characteristics, the closest to them are simultaneous specimens from Italy and Germany. Unfortunately, we cannot connect and compare them with modern breeds because the vast majority of modern breeds originated over the last 200 years, the Croatian anthropologist said.

But the most important issue is the relationship between man and dog. At what point did the dog become as close to man as it is today, how much did their historical paths overlap to make it even possible? There is a very obvious difference in the length of existence of both species. Today’s humans have existed for more than 40,000 years, the dog about 14,500. The historical path of the dog, as a rule, did not follow the path of man. For example, the human population of Copper Age Iran is different from that of the Neolithic Levant, but dogs are the same in both regions. The people of Neolithic Germany and Ireland are more inclined to those in the Levant, while dogs from the area are inclined to northern European hunter-gatherers. But both East Asian humans and dogs are closer to European than Middle Eastern populations.

Dogs in croatia

Man’s best friend

The question of why man and dog decided to coexist together is still not fully understood today. The relationship between man and dog is a very complex issue – this relationship is not one-way and most likely arose to the mutual benefit, ie people have realized what benefits they have from dogs and vice versa. The exact location of the dog’s domestication is not known, and according to known data, it could have occurred in Western Europe, the Arctic, and/or East Asia.

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