Dog droppings tell more about 17th century sled dogs

Proteins from frozen canine feces have been successfully extracted for the first time to learn more about the diet of Arctic sled dogs. Researchers – led by the University of York – say the breakthrough will allow scientists to use paleofeces (ancient dung) to learn more about our ancestors and their animals.

Proteins recovered revealed that sled dogs at the Nunalleq archaeological site near Quinhagak, Alaska consumed the muscles, bones and intestines of a range of salmon species, including chum salmon, often called “salmon dog”.

Proteins from the dogs that deposited the samples were also detected. The majority of these were associated with the digestive system and confirmed that the samples passed through the gastrointestinal tract. However, a bone fragment found in one of the samples was identified as being from a canine, suggesting that the dogs also ate other dogs, which is supported by previous observations of gnaw marks. on thrown bones.

Senior researcher and doctoral student Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge from the Department of Archeology said the study demonstrated the viability of frozen paleofeces as a unique source of information.

She said: “The lives of dogs and their interactions with humans have only recently become a topic of interest for archaeologists. This study of their eating habits reveals more about their relationship with humans.

“In the Arctic, dogs are exclusively dependent on humans for food during the winter, but deciphering the details of foraging strategies has been difficult.

“In places like the Arctic, permafrost has preserved paleofeces. Now they can be used as a unique source of information through which we can learn more about the past.”

The researchers used paleoproteomics, a technique based on tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to recover proteins from fecal samples. Unlike more established or traditional analyses, proteomics can provide information about the tissues from which proteins originated and identify the parts of animals that have been consumed.

Complementary analyzes were performed with Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS), an analytical approach developed at the University of York, on bone fragments recovered from inside paleofeces. This technique uses the collagen protein preserved in archaeological and historical artifacts to identify the species from which it derives.

“Arctic dogs rely exclusively on humans for food during the long winters, but may have been fed differently or less frequently in the summer, or may have been let loose to fend for themselves. Working sled dogs are a particularly expensive resource, requiring up to 3.2 kg of food, fish or meat every day and the supply of dogs would therefore have played an important role in the food supply strategies of past Arctic cultures,” added Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge. .

The University of Copenhagen, University of Aberdeen, University of British Columbia and village society Qanirtuuq Incorporated were also part of the research project funded by EU Horizon 2020, the Danish National Research Foundation and the Council arts and humanities research center in the UK.

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Material provided by York University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Bette C. Alvarado