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The first American settlers arrived with their dogs

The first people to settle in the Americas arrived with their own dogs, according to a new study led by archaeologist Dr. Angela Perri of Durham University.

For the investigation, an international team of experts analyzed archaeological and genetic records of ancient people and dogs. The analysis showed that the first people to cross into the Americas before 15,000 years ago, who were of northeast Asian descent, were accompanied by their dogs.

The researchers said their findings suggest that dog domestication likely took place in Siberia sometime prior to 23,000 years ago. People eventually traveled west into the rest of Eurasia and east into the Americas, and they took their dogs with them.

“When and where have long been questions in dog domestication research, but here we also explored the how and why, which have often been overlooked,” said Dr. Perri.

“Dog domestication occurring in Siberia answers many of the questions we’ve always had about the origins of the human-dog relationship.”

“By putting together the puzzle pieces of archaeology, genetics and time we see a much clearer picture where dogs are being domesticated in Siberia, then disperse from there into the Americas and around the world.”

Study co-author Laurent Frantz is a geneticist at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

“The only thing we knew for sure is that dog domestication did not take place in the Americas,” said Frantz. “From the genetic signatures of ancient dogs, we now know that they must have been present somewhere in Siberia before people migrated to the Americas.”

During the Last Glacial Maximum about 23,000 to 19,000 years ago, the land between Canada and Russia, and most of Siberia, was extremely cold and dry. The harsh climate likely placed humans and wolves in close proximity given their attraction to the same prey. Increasing interactions between humans and wolves may have led to the domestication of dogs. 

“We have long known that the first Americans must have possessed well-honed hunting skills, the geological know-how to find stone and other necessary materials and been ready for new challenges,” said study co-author and archaeologist David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University.

“The dogs that accompanied them as they entered this completely new world may have been as much a part of their cultural repertoire as the stone tools they carried.”

Future studies will reveal more about how the relationship between people and dogs led to their worldwide distribution.

“Researchers have previously suggested that dogs were domesticated across Eurasia from Europe to China, and many places in between,” said study co-author Professor Greger Larson of Oxford University. 

“The combined evidence from ancient humans and dogs is helping to refine our understanding of the deep history of dogs, and now points toward Siberia and Northeast Asia as a likely region where dog domestication was initiated.”

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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