The question of the origins of the dog has been much debated. The dog is descended from the wolf that at the end of the last glaciation (the archaeologically hypothesized period of dog domestication) was one of the most widespread among Holarctic mammals. Scenarios provided by genetic studies range from multiple dog-founding events to a single origin in East Asia. The earliest fossil dogs, dated ’17–12,000 radiocarbon (14C) years ago (YA), were found in Europe and in the Middle East. Ancient DNA (a-DNA) evidence could contribute to the identification of dog-founder wolf populations. To gain insight into the relationships between ancient European wolves and dogs we analyzed a 262-bp mitochondrial DNA control region fragment retrieved from five prehistoric Italian canids ranging in age from ’15,000 to ’3,000 14C YA. These canids were compared to a worldwide sample of 547 purebred dogs and 341 wolves. The ancient sequences were highly diverse and joined the three major clades of extant dog sequences. Phylogenetic investigations highlighted relationships between the ancient sequences and geographically widespread extant dog matrilines and between the ancient sequences and extant wolf matrilines of mainly East European origin. The results provide a-DNA support for the involvement of European wolves in the origins of the three major dog clades. Genetic data also suggest multiple independent domestication events. East European wolves may still reflect the genetic variation of ancient dog-founder populations.
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