MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. People love dogs. They love them for their companionship and their loyalty. Well it turns out they may have also loved them because they made a tasty lunch way back when. So says a new study examining why people first began domesticating wolves ï¿½ the ancestors of man's best friend. Peter Savolainen is the lead scientist on the study. He's a geneticist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. What did you find in your study that makes you think wolves were domesticated into dogs to provide a food source?
PETER SAVOLAINEN: What we have found is that most probably wolves were domesticated in southern China or in Southeast Asia and it's striking that in this region today and all through history people have eaten dog in this part of the world. So therefore it springs to your mind that perhaps that was one of the reasons behind domesticating wolves. But of course it's just a speculation. We can't know about it ï¿½ at least yet. We could perhaps check in the archeological record for signs on the bones that they have been butchered. But right now it's just a theory. What's important to me is that they were ï¿½ . The wolf seems to have been domesticated in southern China or in Southeast Asia and that it happened less than 16,000 years ago. And that means that we have a pretty detailed place and time. Which means that for the first time we can start to at least speculate about which human population did this wolves domestication. It looks like there must have been hundreds of wolves domesticated indicating that this was an important cultural trait in this human population.
WERMAN: And were those wolves domesticated to be work animals, to be eaten, or just to be kind of a house pet?
SAVOLAINEN: It's important to remember that domestication of wolves most probably not a conscious thing done by these humans. At this time there were no domestic animals around so of course there can't have been a notion about let's say there's a wolf, let's tame it and make a domestic animal out of it. That's impossible. There is a good theory about this that perhaps the wolves themselves helped to domesticate themselves by approaching humans to get some scrap form food leftovers from the human camps. And the wolves who were least afraid and less aggressive could get closer and get most of the food.
WERMAN: So you're saying that the wolves in the wild were kind of sick and tired of living in the wild and they thought maybe we should move into somebody's house and if we're nice to them maybe they'll let us live with them.
SAVOLAINEN: Yeah I don't think they really thought like that though. Kind of automatically they go where the food is I would say.
WERMAN: Do you have a sense of when in dog history did dogs become more herders and companions?
SAVOLAINEN: I don't know and I don't think anybody else knows actually. But perhaps it's ï¿½ . I mean we should remember that perhaps domestication also was a kind of a multi-purpose thing. Perhaps they were initially used both for food and for guarding and because they were cute so they were used as pets as well.
WERMAN: Peter Savolainen is a geneticist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He was part of a joint Swedish-Chinese study of the origins of dog domestication which was published this month in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. Dr. Savolainen, thank you.
SAVOLAINEN: Thank you.