A thorough examination of fingertip bones from two ancient dingoes has dramatically changed the timeline of their arrival in Australia. While it was previously thought that dingoes made their first appearance on the continent around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, the new study suggests that these animals actually arrived about 1,500 years later.
The remains had been recovered nearly five decades ago in the Madura Cave on the Nullarbor Plain. Researchers from the University of Western Australia have now analyzed the bones using a meticulous form of radiocarbon dating known as accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating technology.
The results of the investigation showed that the animals could have emerged on Australian shores as recently as 3,081 years ago.
“The timing of dingo arrival is important as post arrival they transformed Indigenous societies across mainland Australia and have been implicated in the extinction of a number of animals including the Tasmanian tiger,” wrote the study authors.
There was no land bridge connecting Southeast Asia and Australia when the dingoes would have arrived, which means that it is likely that the iconic Australian dogs were transported by early settlers on boats.
Dingoes provide experts with the only evidence that outsiders came to mainland Australia after the first Indigenous settlement until 400 years ago, when trading ships began frequenting the northern coast.
The research suggests that Aboriginal people brought dingoes as companion animals to Australia sometime between 3,348 and 3,081 years ago. Their relationship with humans may explain how the dogs spread so rapidly across the continent, given that the timing of their arrival is now believed to have taken place much more recently.
Earlier studies based on DNA testing had even placed the wild dogs on the continent as far back as 18,000 years.
“What we’re saying is, well, actually they got here later than that, and their dispersal was really quick as they were aided by people,” explained study co-author Professor Jane Balme.
The researchers pointed out that if dingoes did enter Australia just over 3,ooo years ago, this would coincide with the decline of other native predators around this time.
The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.