Dogs probably followed humans to America after the ice age.
Researchers have narrowed a timeline for when man̵
The femur fragment, smaller than the size of a crown, was surprised when researchers studied how climate change during the ice age affected the animals’ survival and movements, according to a press release from the University of Buffalo.
Researchers sequenced DNA from a collection of hundreds of bones found in the region many years ago when they realized that the small bone originally thought to have come from a bear contained DNA from a dog that lived for about 10,150 years ago, the release said.
“It all started with our interest in how climatic changes during the ice age affected animal survival and movement in this region,” University of Buffalo evolutionary biologist Charlotte Lindqvist, lead author of the study published Tuesday in the British journal The Royal Society, said in a statement. “Southeast Alaska could have served as an ice-free stopover, and now – with our dog – we believe that early human migration through the region may be much more important than some previously suspected.”
Dogs were domesticated in Europe between 32,000 and 18,800 years ago. The results suggest that dogs first migrated to America about 16,000 years ago, according to the study.
The bone’s DNA suggests it came from a dog that deviated from a Siberian dog as early as 16,700 years ago, the researchers determined. The timing of this division coincides with a period in which humans may have migrated to North America along a coastal route that included southeastern Alaska.
There have been several waves of dogs migrating to America, according to the study. Arctic dogs arrived from East Asia with Thule, the ancestors of all modern Inuit people living in the Arctic. Siberian huskies were imported to Alaska during the Gold Rush, and other dogs were brought by European colonizers.
But the exact time frame for when dogs first migrated into America was previously unclear. The results from the bone coincide with when humans first arrived in America after the last ice age, when coastal glaciers began to retreat.
This suggests “that dogs accompanied the first humans to enter the New World,” according to the study.
“The history of the dog has been intertwined since ancient times with the people who tamed them,” the release said.
However, the fossil record of old dogs on the North American continent is still incomplete, so any new remains that are discovered will leave important clues, said University of Buffalo biological science student Flavio Augusto da Silva Coelho.
Prior to the discovery, the earliest ancient dog bones found in the United States were in the Midwest, Coelho said.