Deciphering dog domestication through a combined ancient DNA and geometric morphometric approach

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Archaeology

Abstract

The shift from hunting and gathering to an agricultural way of life was one of the most profound events in the history of our species and one which continues to impact our existence today. Understanding this process is key to understanding the origins and rise of human civilization. Despite decades of study, however, fundamental questions regarding why, where and how it occurred remain largely unanswered.

Such a fundamental change in human existence could not have been possible without the domestication of selected animals and plants. The dog is crucial in this story since it was not only the first ever domestic animal, but also the only animal to be domesticated by hunter-gatherers several thousand years before the appearance of farmers.

The bones and teeth of early domestic dogs and their wild wolf ancestors hold important clues to our understanding of how, where and when humans and wild animals began the relationship we still depend upon today. These remains have been recovered from as early as 15,000 years ago in numerous archaeological sites across Eurasia suggesting that dogs were either domesticated independently on several occasions across the Old World, or that dogs were domesticated just once and subsequently spreading with late Stone Age hunter gatherers across the Eurasian continent and into North America. There are also those who suggest that wolves were involved in an earlier, failed domestication experiment by Ice Age Palaeolithic hunters about 32,000 years ago. Despite the fact that we generally know the timing and locations of the domestication of all the other farmyard animals, we still know very little for certain about the origins of our most iconic domestic animal.

New scientific techniques that include the combination of genetics and statistical analyses of the shapes of ancient bones and teeth are beginning to provide unique insights into the biology of the domestication process itself, as well as new ways of tracking the spread of humans and their domestic animals around the globe. By employing these techniques we will be able to observe the variation that existed in early wolf populations at different levels of biological organization, identify diagnostic signatures that pinpoint which ancestral wolf populations were involved in early dog domestication, reveal the shape (and possibly the genetic) signatures specifically linked to the domestication process and track those signatures through time and space.

We have used this combined approach successfully in our previous research enabling us to definitively unravel the complex story of pig domestication in both Europe and the Far East. We have shown that pigs were domesticated multiple times and in multiple places across Eurasia, and the fine-scale resolution of the data we have generated has also allowed us to reveal the migration routes pigs took with early farmers across Europe and into the Pacific. By applying this successful research model to ancient dogs and wolves, we will gain much deeper insight into the fundamental questions that still surround the story of dog domestication.

Planned Impact

As "man's best friend", the dog is the most iconic domestic animal. There are currently more than 400 million dogs worldwide, 72 million living in households in the USA, and a further 10.5 million in the UK. A huge and diverse industry exists that caters to both dogs and (more importantly) their owners, with households in the US alone estimated to spend $4.1bn on their pets by the end of 2012, the vast majority of which is dedicated to dogs.

The principal beneficiaries of our research will be the general public who have a broad appetite and interest in archaeology and natural history, as evidenced by the number and popularity of TV programs dedicated to these topics. We have shown through our pig domestication research that there is broad public appeal for stories about animal domestication, and the iconic status of dogs in human society will only reinforce this. We have a great deal of experience with the media, having taken part in a range of TV and Radio broadcasts featuring our domestication research including BBC1 and 2, Radio 4, German ZDF, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. We will therefore carefully plan and coordinate active participation in relevant media opportunities.

Beyond this are a wide range of specific user groups directly or indirectly linked to the diverse industries and specialist interest groups associated with dogs as pets. In this respect we have identified the relevant Kennel Clubs (principally in the UK and US), who promote the concept of recognised dog breeds with documented bloodlines and defined phenotypic characteristics, as well as various specialist commercial genetic testing labs for dogs who offer definitive information regarding the genetic history and breed make-up of pet dogs. The imposition of rigorous breed definitions by these groups has resulted in the proliferation and widespread acceptance of a range of pathological phenotypes in modern pedigree dog breed definitions, many of which compromise the health of the dog. This phenomenon led to a Panorama investigation resulting in the subsequent controversial decision by the BBC to withdraw its TV coverage of Crufts Dog Show in 2008. Addressing this growing ethical problem has led to the UK Kennel Club's instigation of veterinary checks as part of the dog judging process at competitions; a decision that has led to protests by breeders. Our data will likely challenge long-held assumptions about the antiquity and validity of dog variation and specific breed definition, and will likely be used by media organisations and other interest groups alike to inform a variety of decision making processes. We will engage with all these groups in a positive dialogue to explore ways of presenting a balanced debate in the way our results may be used.

The vast number of dog interest magazines means that the inevitable narratives we will uncover regarding dog domestication will ensure worldwide coverage by additional users groups. In this respect we will directly engage with the most popular listed dog magazines (i.e. Bark, Dog Fancy, Dog World, Dog's Life, Fido Friendly, Family Dog and Hollywood Dog) alerting them to new findings and popular stories from our project. Unravelling the origins of man's best friend will undoubtedly generate huge public interest and we will inform dog owners about the myths and misinformation about dog origins.

Beyond that, there are major additional opportunities to impact numerous additional user-groups and beneficiaries in the form of internet sites and publication vehicles for specific dog breed groups, veterinary organisations and charities (e.g. the Dogs Trust), major retail outlets, as well as welfare and rescue organisations (e.g. RSPCA). With such a diverse network of potential interested parties, user groups and beneficiaries, the impact trajectory of our research findings are likely to be regular, sustained and on a global scale.

Publications


10 25 50
Evin A (2015) Unravelling the complexity of domestication: a case study using morphometrics and ancient DNA analyses of archaeological pigs from Romania. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences
Gerbault P (2014) Storytelling and story testing in domestication. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Girdland Flink L (2014) Establishing the validity of domestication genes using DNA from ancient chickens. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/K005243/1 01/10/2013 30/09/2014 £443,723
NE/K005243/2 Transfer NE/K005243/1 01/10/2014 30/03/2017 £330,678
 
Description We are still in the early stages of this research project and as yet have focused upon data collection and not analyses.

We are now in the analytical phase of the project and have collected samples worldwide that include 6727 specimens from 1190 unique locations across Eurasia.
Exploitation Route Our group has developed a successful research model that combines genetic and novel morphometric approaches with direct dating. We were the first to do this successfully and it is now becoming a model for similar projects run by colleagues around the world.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
URL http://domestication.org.uk/
 
Description The research described has through TV and radio programmes, raising public awareness and understanding of the history of domestic animals. impacts through film and book sales.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal
 
Description AHRC GCRF Large Grant
Amount £850,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/P009018/1 
Organisation Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 
Sector Multiple
Country Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China
Start 02/2017 
End 06/2017
 
Description Co-Reach (Social Sciences Call)
Amount € 150,685 (EUR)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2009 
End 02/2013
 
Description European Research Council Starting Investigator Award
Amount € 1,500,000 (EUR)
Funding ID ERC-2013-StG 337574-UNDEAD 
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 02/2014 
End 02/2019
 
Description National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre Catalysis Meeting
Amount $30,000 (USD)
Organisation National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre (NESCent) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United States of America
Start 04/2011 
End 04/2011
 
Description Oxford University Fell Fund
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 143/108 
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 12/2015 
End 12/2016
 
Description Research Project Grant
Amount € 300,000 (EUR)
Organisation National Agency for Research (Agence Nationale de la Recherche) 
Sector Public
Country France, French Republic
Start 09/2013 
End 08/2016
 
Description Standard Grant
Amount £880,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/N004558/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 04/2017 
End 04/2020
 
Description Co-Reach project to set up a joint European-Chinese Bioarchaeology Collaboration (EUCH-BIOARCH) - 'Contributing to a Broader Agenda' 
Organisation Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Department Institute of Archaeology
Country China, People's Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Project Leader of joint AHRC/EPSRC/European funded (2009-2012). Involves four countries (China, UK, Germany & France), twelve international institutions and approx 150 academic colleagues, post-docs and PhD students. Supports PhD students and researchers in research collaboration and training between countries and institutions involved.
Collaborator Contribution Supports PhD students and researchers in research collaboration and training between countries and institutions involved.
Impact Cucchi, T., Hulme-Beaman, A., Yuan, J. and Dobney, K. 2011. Early Neolithic pig domestication at Jiahu, Henan Province, China: clues from molar shape analyses using geometric morphometric approaches. Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 11-22. Fa-jun Li, Ming-hui Wang, Xian-guo Fu, Dobney, K, Zhen Li, Bo-yu Chen, Chong Yu. (2013). Dismembered Neolithic burials at the Ding Si Shan site in Guangxi, southern China. Antiquity 87 (337) Project Gallery.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Set up MoU between University of Aberdeen Archaeology Dept and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of Archaeology 
Organisation Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Department Institute of Archaeology
Country China, People's Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Set up MoU between University of Aberdeen Archaeology Dept and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of Archaeology
Start Year 2011
 
Description Set up MoU between University of Aberdeen Archaeology Dept and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of Archaeology 
Organisation University of Aberdeen
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Set up MoU between University of Aberdeen Archaeology Dept and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of Archaeology
Start Year 2011
 
Description Being Human 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 1,000 people attended a multi-hour and multi-activity event at the Natural History Museum in Oxford associated with the Being Human event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Media and public interest (Pacific colonisation history) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The "Lapita Voyage"involved a six-month sailing voyage on a reconstructed Polynesian catamaran undertaken in Nov 08-April 09. It followed the migration routes of ancient Austronesian settlers from Island S.E Asia into West Polynesia. Dobney and Larson were invited to join five of the participating scientists because of their research expertise in this area. During the voyage, unique hair and feather samples were collected of domestic animals for genetic analyses.

The voyage was accompanied by a film crew, who produced a feature-length documentary for German public broadcaster ZDF. Wagnis in der Südsee: Das Rätsel der Polynesier was first broadcast in 2010, repeated in July 2013 and is still available for online viewing [9]. A 2011 popular book, by German expedition leader Klaus Hympendahl, sold several thousand copies in Europe by June 2013, with sales revenues estimated to be between €50-100,000. The paperback edition was published in May 2013. [10]
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2011,2013
URL http://www.lapita-voyage.org/en/lapita_voyage_konzept.html
 
Description Media and public interest (domestication studies) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our research group's animal domestication and migration research have regularly featured as news items in the international print media, as well as in news articles by (for example) Nature and Science. Subsequent coverage by broadcast media - included BBC radio and television in the UK - as well as documentaries featured on French, German and US television.

Dobney discussed his findings twice on BBC Radio 4's flagship science programme, Material World in June 2010, to explain how his findings on pigs have shed new light on how humans colonised islands in the Pacific; and in June 2013, to discuss the challenges and wider importance of new DNA sequences from a horse dating back more than 700,000 years. As part of Radio 4's programme offer, Material World has a reach of nearly 11 million listeners, according to June 2013 Rajar figures.

Dobney and colleagues in Durham also acted as consultants for the six-part BBC2 Horizon series, The Secret Life of the Dog, broadcast in January 2010 and repeated in October 2012. Drawing on their research, the group advised the programme makers on early evidence of the domestication of dogs. The series was reviewed in The Guardian newspaper and on online fora such as channelhopping.onthebox.com, both of which called it "fascinating". On YouTube, part 1 alone had attracted over 35,000 views by the end of July 2013. The series was also shown in Australia (latest repeat September 2011) and on the BBC HD Channel (October 2012).

Another BBC2 documentary, A History of Ancient Britain (series 1, part 2), drew on our research into commensal rodents (February 2012). The programme examined the story of how the first farmers arrived in Britain from Europe in 4000BC.

A National Geographic programme, How Man Tamed the Wild, also relied on our research, using information supplied to programme makers and featuring an interview. The programme was broadcast on the National Geographic and History Channel in November 2010.

The Discovery Channel featured the group's research in a documentary entitled Prehistoric Dog Domestication Derailed by the Ice Age (July 2011). Viewer feedback from the programmes above revealed both a widespread fascination with the subject matter, and a particular interest among people with a professional connection, such as dog breeders and farmers.

Our research has also featured In newspapers, such as Aberdeen's The Press and Journal (May 2010), which focused on the research into pigs in South East Asia; and on a range of news programmes and outlets, including BBC North East Scotland (May 2012) and NBC News (July 2011).

In addition, several large scientific news pieces regarding our domestication work have appeared in Science (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6232.cover-expansion and http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/01/were-cats-domesticated-more-once) - the former making the front cover (17th April 2015). An additional major news article on our dog domestication work (taking the research model based on our earlier research on pigs) appeared in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/19/science/the-big-search-to-find-out-where-dogs-come-from.html?_r=0).


The research described has had considerable impact through a wide range of TV and radio programmes, raising public awareness and understanding of the history of domestic animals - and what it reveals about human colonisation history - in Britain and abroad.

After appearing on Radio 4 programmes, each of these appearances, Dobney received 40-60 direct audience responses.
Through these and other engagements, the research has contributed to culture and quality of life, as well as enabling eco
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013,2014
 
Description Presidential session (Anth and Arch section) British Science Festival 2012 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Keith Dobney was invited to undertake the role of President of the Anthropology and Archaeology Section at the British Science festival held in Aberdeen in 2012. He organised the Section's Presidential Session, entitled "The Northern Past, that included lectures, workshops, press conferences and other activities including field-trips" for the public.

Stimulated much media and public interest in our archaeological research in 'The North.' Media follow-up resulted in a number of print articles in the local and National press.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/british-science-festival/about-festival