How did humans tame wolves? © iStock

How did humans tame wolves?

There are two theories as to how man’s best friend found its way into our civilisation.

Asked by: Lorenzo Matousek, Oxford

Advertisement

Dogs aren’t actually descended from modern wolf species. DNA evidence shows that they are both descended from a wolf-like ancestor that lived in Europe at least 11,000 years ago. This was before the advent of agriculture, so initially wolves were tamed by hunter-gatherer tribes.

The two main hypotheses are that either wolves domesticated themselves, or that humans domesticated them. In the first scenario, some wolves hung around human camps to scavenge on bones and leftovers, much like urban foxes today. The hunters would likely only have tolerated the friendlier individuals, driving away or killing the more dangerous animals. This caused the ancestral wolf to split into a tame subspecies that associated with humans, and a fiercer subspecies that stayed wild.

The second scenario involves humans raising orphaned wolf cubs and later breeding them. Studies have shown that even modern wolf pups can be successfully domesticated from an early enough age.

Read more:


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.