Sled dogs are an ancient breed dating back at least 10,000 years

Sled dogs have a long lineage

Carsten Egevang / Qimmek

The remains of a 9,500-year-old dog found on a remote island off Siberia are remarkably similar to living sled dogs in Greenland, genome sequencing has revealed. The discovery shows that people bred dogs to pull sleds more than 10,000 years ago.

“We thought it would be a primitive dog, but there’s still a long way to go to domestication,” says Mikkel Sinding of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. “It was quite sensational.”

Excavations of ancient human settlements on the island of Zhokhov in northern Siberia have revealed the remains of numerous dogs and what looks like dog sleds. “It’s the first place in history where you have heavy use of dogs,” Sinding says.

His team sequenced the best-preserved dog found at Zhokhov, along with a 33,000-year-old Siberian wolf and 10 living sled dogs from different locations in Greenland, and compared their genomes with each other and with other dog genomes. and wolves.

The results show that modern sled dogs in Greenland – whose ancestors were brought there by the Inuit around 850 years ago – are more closely related to the 9,500-year-old dog Zhokhov than to other types of sled dogs. dogs or wolves.

“It’s largely the same dogs doing the same thing,” says Sinding.

While Zhokhov’s finds are the first clear evidence of dogs pulling sleds, ivory artifacts that may have been used to attach reins to sleds have been found elsewhere. Some are 12,000 years old.

The genomes also show that sled dogs have not acquired any wolf DNA in the past 9,500 years. “The modern wolf is not in them,” Sinding says.

This is surprising as there are many reports of sled dogs mating with wolves in Greenland and of hybrids being born. This suggests the hybrids have undesirable characteristics and are not kept or allowed to mate with sled dogs, Sinding says.

Sinding had hoped this work would reveal more about the origins of the first dogs, but that remains a mystery. We know their ancestors were a now-extinct species of wolf, but when and where they were first domesticated remains unclear.

Journal reference: ScienceDOI: 10.1126/science.aaz8599

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Bette C. Alvarado