How dogs got to America is a great question the University of Illinois and Illinois State Archaeological Survey are trying to figure out. And they’re using fossilized dogs to do it.
LAND BRIDGE TO AMERICA
Ripan Mali, an anthropology professor involved in this effort, says that American dogs came here from Russia—specifically from Siberia!
How is that even possible?
According to scientists, during the most recent Ice Age there was much less water in sea, so the sea levels were lower. We’re talking around 15,000 years ago, so recent is a relative term.
The frozen water in glaciers comes mainly from the sea. So during the last ice age, huge quantities of water were caged on land, thus removing it from the oceans.
Today, where the Being Strait is—the narrow section of water that separates Russia from Alaska—the land used to be above water. This bridge of land is what allowed dogs to come to America from Siberia.
Malhi also claims these Russian-American dogs mostly died out after Christopher Columbus came to the American continent.
What caused these dogs to die is the source of much deliberation between scientists. Some assert that our European ancestors killed them off so they wouldn’t reproduce with the European dogs they brought over with them.
Why would they do that?
European dogs had been bred for specific functions like herding animals, hunting, etc. Perhaps our ancestors were afraid of losing those keen capabilities in their animals.
Others think that perhaps a time of scarcity and starvation may have been the source of decline.
But the cause put forward most often is illness. This seems very possible since sickness caused a large number of American Indians to die.
Whatever the explanation, many researchers contend that tamed wolves were not the first dogs on our continent.
Researchers on the archaeology team extracted DNA from the dog remains. They were careful to remove as little as possilbe (pea-sized pieces) to minimize damage to the fossils.
They did the extraction in a sterile environment so that not even microscopic impurities could taint the samples they took.
In a laboratory, they then arranged those samples into what’s called a genomic library. These DNA libraries are useful because they allow scientists (and archaeologists) to answer a variety of important questions.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Some of the questions researchers are trying to answer are: Where did dogs begin? When and where were they domesticated?
Many places have been proposed as the birth place of dogs—Asia, the Middle East, and Europe among them. But there is no definitive answer so far.
Researchers are of the opinion that dogs were probably tamed 15,000 to 21,000 years ago in either Asia or Europe.
What an interesting puzzle to try and piece together!