Friday, 26 May 2017

Earliest evidence for dog breeding found on remote Siberian island

By David GrimmMay. 26, 2017 , 3:00 AM

The hunter-gatherers of Zhokhov Island were a hardy folk. Nine thousand years ago, they survived frigid year-round temperatures in animal-skin tents some 500 kilometers north of what is now the Russian mainland, and they were the only people ever known to hunt large numbers of polar bears without firearms. Now it appears these ancient Arctic dwellers did something even more remarkable: They may have been among the first humans to breed dogs for a particular purpose. An analysis of canine bones from Zhokhov suggests the dogs there were bred to pull sleds, making this the first evidence—by thousands of years—for dog breeding in the archaeological record.

“It’s pretty convincing and very exciting,” says Melinda Zeder, an archaezoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The finding may help explain why people domesticated dogs in the first place: to put them to work. “It fills in a missing piece of the puzzle of early human-dog relationships, and even domestication itself,” adds Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Zhokhov wasn’t always an island. When Stone Age people lived there, and before seas rose, it was connected to Siberia. In addition to polar bears, which were mostly hunted in winter, the Zhokhovians pursued reindeer hundreds of kilometers across vast plains. “They needed a means of transportation,” says Vladimir Pitulko, an archaeologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg who has been excavating Zhokhov since 1989. He previously found dog bones and the remains of wooden sleds on the island, but it was never clear whether the animals were actually bred for sledding.


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