Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Barking up the wrong tree: Modern northern European dogs fail to explain their origin

Helena Malmström1*, Carles Vilà1, M Thomas P Gilbert3, Jan Storå4, Eske Willerslev3, Gunilla Holmlund2 and Anders Götherström1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Evolutionary Biology, Uppsala University, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden

2 National Board of Forensic Medicine, Department of Forensic Genetics and Forensic Toxicology, Linköping, Sweden

3 Centre for Ancient Genetics, Biological Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

4 Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-71

Published: 28 February 2008



Geographic distribution of the genetic diversity in domestic animals, particularly mitochondrial DNA, has often been used to infer centers of domestication. The underlying presumption is that phylogeographic patterns among domesticates were established during, or shortly after the domestication. Human activities are assumed not to have altered the haplogroup frequencies to any great extent. We studied this hypothesis by analyzing 24 mtDNA sequences in ancient Scandinavian dogs. Breeds originating in northern Europe are characterized by having a high frequency of mtDNA sequences belonging to a haplogroup rare in other populations (HgD). This has been suggested to indicate a possible origin of the haplogroup (perhaps even a separate domestication) in central or northern Europe.


The sequences observed in the ancient samples do not include the haplogroup indicative for northern European breeds (HgD). Instead, several of them correspond to haplogroups that are uncommon in the region today and that are supposed to have Asian origin.


We find no evidence for local domestication. We conclude that interpretation of the processes responsible for current domestic haplogroup frequencies should be carried out with caution if based only on contemporary data. They do not only tell their own story, but also that of humans.