Humans and our dogs share everything — our homes, our time, sometimes even our food! What many don’t realize, however, is that we share something much more powerful — our history. When tracking the history of humans, researchers find time and time again, dogs by our side.
New research from the University at Buffalo confirms not only this ancient link but also provides more information about how both humans and dogs arrived in the Americas more than 10,000 years ago. The team, led by evolutionary biologist Dr. Charlotte Lindqvist, discovered through DNA sequencing that what they thought was a bone fragment from a bear was actually dog femur, the oldest sample found in the Americas.
“We now have genetic evidence from an ancient dog found along the Alaskan coast. Because dogs are a proxy for human occupation, our data help provide not only a timing but also a location for the entry of dogs and people into the Americas. Our study supports the theory that this migration occurred just as coastal glaciers retreated during the last Ice Age,” Lindqvist confirmed to UB News Center.
The bone fragment, smaller than a dime, can tell a surprisingly full picture. After DNA analysis confirmed that the dog had passed through Southeast Alaska, the bone fragment was examined again. This time, carbon isotope analysis revealed that the pup ate fish from the area, as well as scraps from animals commonly hunted in the area such as seals, whales, and other marine life.
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The finding adds evidence to one of two theories about human migration to the Americas. “Our early dog from Southeast Alaska supports the hypothesis that the first dog and human migration occurred through the Northwest Pacific coastal route,” explained Flavio Augusto da Silva Coelho, an author of the published research paper to UB News Center. This confirms the oral history of many First Nations and indigenous peoples, who have traditionally held that the area now divided between Alaska and Canada was populated during the Last Glacial Period, or ice age, around 12,000 years ago.
There’s still much to learn about our shared history with canines. Shared ancestors from more than 15,000 years ago link this Alaskan pup with our present-day dogs, and as more information becomes available, it could shed further light on human migration history.
Further, this find is just one of many waves of migration throughout history, including more recently recorded human events and importation of breeds like malamutes and huskies brought by the Thule people 1,000 years ago according to LiveScience, and mixed-breed dogs that stem from European colonization and cross-breeding.
As we continue to learn more about not only ourselves but our closest canine companions, scientific findings will continue to attest to the bond we forged in the distant past. That bond is still felt today, by pet owners and families across not only America but the world!
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