Sled dogs appeared more than 9,500 years ago in Siberia: study

An international team of researchers has sequenced the genomes of 10 modern sled dogs, an ancient sled dog and an ancient wolf, both native to Siberia, and analyzed their genetic relationships to other modern dogs. They found that sled dogs represent an ancient lineage dating back at least 9,500 years and that wolves bred with the ancestors of sled dogs as well as American dogs.

The major ancestry of modern sled dogs can be traced back to Siberia. Illustration by John James Audubon and John Bachman.

Archaeological evidence from Eastern Siberia suggests that sled dogs have likely been an integral part of human life in the Arctic for at least 15,000 years.

Similar to their roles in these regions today, ancient arctic-adapted dogs were used to pull sleds, facilitating long-distance travel and transporting resources across the harsh, frozen landscape.

Although they are one of the most unique groups of dogs, little is known about the ancient genetic and evolutionary past of the modern sled dog.

In the new study, Globe Institute scientist Mikkel Sinding and his colleagues sequenced the genomes of 10 modern Greenland sled dogs, a 9,500-year-old Siberian dog associated with archaeological evidence of sled technology and a Siberian wolf from 33,000 years and compared them. to the genomes of modern dogs.

They revealed that the ancient Siberian dog was a common ancestor of modern sled dog breeds, particularly the Greenland sled dogs, which, due to their isolated populations, can trace a more direct genomic ancestry from ancient sled dogs. sled.

“We extracted DNA from a 9,500-year-old dog from the Siberian island of Zhokhov, after whom the dog is named,” Sinding said.

“Based on this DNA, we have sequenced the oldest complete dog genome to date, and the results show an extremely early diversification of dogs into sled dog types.”

“This means that modern sled dogs and Zhokhov had the same common origin in Siberia more than 9,500 years ago,” said Globe Institute researcher Shyam Gopalakrishnan.

“Until now, we thought sled dogs were only 2,000 to 3,000 years old.”

Although the results indicate gene flow from Pleistocene Siberian wolves, unlike many other dog breeds, the authors found no significant admixture between sled dogs – modern or ancient – ​​and Arctic American wolves, suggesting a genetic continuity of about 9,500 years in arctic dog breeds. .

The team also found several convergent adaptations in Arctic dogs, including one that allowed sled dogs to eat the high-fat, low-starch diets of their human counterparts.

“This underscores that sled dogs and people living in the Arctic have worked and adapted together for over 9,500 years,” said Dr Gopalakrishnan.

“We can also see that they have adaptations that are probably related to better oxygen uptake, which makes sense in relation to sledding and gives the sledding tradition some ancient roots.”

“Our results imply that the combination of these dogs with the innovation of sled technology facilitated human sustenance,” the scientists said.

The results appear in the journal Science.


Mikkel-Holger S. Sinding et al. 2020. Arctic-adapted dogs emerged during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Science 368 (6498): 1495-1499; doi: 10.1126/science.aaz8599

Bette C. Alvarado