Early Siberian Explorers Crossed The Bering Sea With Canine Companions
For decades, archaeologists generally agreed that the first humans in the Americas were the Clovis people, who were believed to have left northern Asia and reached the Alaska region about 13,000 years ago. However, archaeologists have now established that humans reached the Americas thousands of years before that. And now, a new paper looking at the origins of dog domestication suggests the ancient Siberians arrived in North America with their canine companions, which were pet dogs already then.
How Canine Companions Developed 15,000-23,000 Years Ago
An international team of researchers led by archaeologist Dr Angela Perri of Durham University, England, has conducted an archaeological and genetic study of ancient people and their dogs. The conclusion of her research team is that the first people to settle in the Americas, who were of northeast Asian descent, most probably brought canine companions with them, sometime “before 15,000 years ago.” Furthermore, the researchers discovered dog domestication must have occurred in what is today Siberia as early as “23,000 years ago.”
Dr Angela Perri from the Department of Archaeology at Durham University is lead author of the new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). She said her team explored the “how and why” of canine companions, which, she says, are questions that are all too often overlooked.
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Co-author of the paper, Laurent Frantz, is a geneticist at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and he says the new research into the genetic signatures of ancient dogs determines “dog domestication did not take place in the Americas.” Instead, it happened in Siberia long before people began migrating westwards to the Americas.
Primeval man taming a wolf. (crimson / Adobe Stock)
The Development Of Canine Companions As Hunting Tools
Between 23,000-19,000 years ago, a time frame known as the Last Glacial Maximum, the Beringia region between Canada and Russia and Siberia was becoming void of ice but it was still exceptionally cold and dry. The paper suggests it was around this time that wolf and human populations began hunting the same prey animals. Evidence suggests increased hunting interaction “through mutual scavenging of kills from wolves drawn to human campsites,” sparked the interspecies relationship that would see the two creatures populating the Americas much earlier than previously thought.
In a Eureka Alert release, archaeologist David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a co-author of the new study, says dogs must have accompanied the first human explorers to the “New World.”
The Razboinichya Cave canid skull found in the Altai Mountains at the southern edge of Siberia. Age: 33,500 years. (Nikolai D. Ovodov1, Susan J. Crockford2, Yaroslav V. Kuzmin3*, Thomas F. G. Higham4, Gregory W. L. Hodgins5, Johannes van der Plicht6,7 / CC BY 2.5)
Furthermore, canine companions may have been as important to these early hunters “as the stone tools they carried,” said Meltzer. Over the next 20,000 years dogs merely adapted to new human environments, ultimately moving from their roles as guards at the edges of campfires, to curled up pets asleep at our feet in front of our fireplaces.
Polychrome painting of a wolf in the Font-de-Gaume cave in France dated to about 25,000 BC. (drawing by Henri Breuil, published by Henry Fairfield Osborn / Public domain)
Cracking The Canine Code
This new canine research comes only 3 months after I wrote an Ancient Origins news article about the remains of a 20,000-year-old ancient domesticated dog that was unearthed by archaeologists in an Italian cave, considered to be “Europe's earliest pet dog.” This earlier study showed how the ancestors of grey wolves ( Canis lupus), known to science as creodonts, roamed the northern hemisphere between 100 and 120 million years ago. Sometime around 55 million years ago “carnassials” emerged from the creodonts. And from them came a more wolf-like animal with razor-sharp teeth for tearing and eating meat, known as “ Miacis,” the common ancestor of all present-day wolves, bears, raccoons, weasels, and dogs.
According to Science Reports, in the 2020 canine study, Dr Francesco Boschin from Italy’s University of Siena set out to answer the “how and when” regarding dogs divergence from wolves, and their becoming hunting companions and pets.
Now, Dr Angela Perri and her team from Durham University have quested the “how and why” of canine companionship. And what’s arising from this double pronged scientific investigation of the mysteries of canine evolution, is that both of these modern studies suggest the process of dog domestication, from wolves, occurred around 23,000 years ago.
Ever since then, our canine companions have assisted with the survival and development of human societies and cultures around the world.
Top image: Early settlers in the Americas and their canine companions. Source: Ettore Mazza
By Ashley Cowie