Ancient Dog Bone Found in Alaska Suggests Early Humans Migrated to the Americas with Their Dogs

The bone fragment is the "oldest confirmed remains of a domestic dog in the Americas," according to press release from the University of Buffalo

ancient dog bone
Photo: Douglas Levere/University at Buffalo

Ancient dogs may have helped humans make their way to the Americas!

Researchers at the University of Buffalo have confirmed that a bone fragment found in southeast Alaska belongs to a dog that lived in the region about 10,150 years ago. According to a press release from the university, the bone represents "the oldest confirmed remains of a domestic dog 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 helps provide not only 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," Charlotte Lindqvist, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Buffalo, said.

The scientists who discovered the bone fragment were originally studying how climate change during the Ice Age impacted animals' survival and movements. While looking at the DNA of bones found in the region, they realized that one of the fragments — originally believed to have come from a bear — was actually from a dog.

ancient dog bone fragment
Douglas Levere/University at Buffalo

"This all started out with our interest in how Ice Age climatic changes impacted animals' survival and movements in this region," Lindqvist said. "Southeast Alaska might have served as an ice-free stopping point of sorts, and now — with our dog — we think that early human migration through the region might be much more important than some previously suspected."

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After finding the bone fragment, scientists analyzed its mitochondrial genome to see if it could provide any clues about canine history and migration to the Americas. Their research concluded that "the animal belonged to a lineage of dogs whose evolutionary history diverged from that of Siberian dogs as early as 16,700 years ago," the university said.

ancient dog bone fragment
Bob Wilder/University at Buffalo

The timing "coincides with a period when humans may have been migrating into North America along a coastal route" which suggests "that dogs accompanied the first humans that entered the New World," researchers said.

Researchers also noted that there have been several waves of dogs migrating to the Americas, including with European colonizers, but this fragment shows that some canines were brought to the Americas even earlier than expected.

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