New Light on Ancient Dogs

From Texas, by way of researchers at the University of Maine in the U.S., comes a story that sheds light on the oldest known domesticated dog in the Americas.  According to their research, the oldest domesticated dog in the Americas weighed about 30 pounds and lived 9,400 years ago.  Bone fragments from the dog were found when the researchers were studying the diet of people from that time who lived in the Lower Pecos region of Texas.

That’s right.  The dog was on the menu.  However, it seems that the dog had been well-cared for prior to being eaten.  Which only points out that there is much we still don’t know about the complex role dogs played in our early relationship with them.  They were companions, protectors, they helped in hunting with us, and, at times, they were a source of food.

The bone fragment discovered closely matches that of a short-nosed Native American dog from New Mexico.  DNA analysis proves that the bone comes from a dog and not from a wolf, coyote, or fox.  The DNA is closely related to a Peruvian dog species.

However, dogs in the New World did not originate in Peru.  Instead, they crossed the Bering land bridge near Alaska from Eurasia when people began to migrate into North America, probably 10-15,000 years ago.  They made their way down the continents with humans.

There are dog fossil finds in Europe and Asia which are much older.  A cave in Belgium has yielded a dog fossil that is estimated to be over 30,000 years old.  Fossils have been found in Israel and China which are over 15,000 years old.

It is believed that dogs were probably consumed during times of extreme desperation or as part of religious celebrations.

The paper “Genetic Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog” in the journal Science identified the following breeds as the oldest dogs, genetically:

Current scientific evidence suggests that wolves were originally domesticated in southeast Asia and spread from there as humans moved.  Other scientists believe that wolves were domesticated at different places, at different times.

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