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How did humans tame wolves? © iStock

How did humans tame wolves?

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

Asked by: Lorenzo Matousek, Oxford


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.

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luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.


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