(CN) – Dogs who lived on the American continent for thousands of years along with the native people were all but wiped out by the arrival of European colonists around the 15th century, according to a study published Thursday in Science.
The first domesticated dog burial sites in North America, found in Illinois, date back to 9,000 years ago and remnants of those ancient dogs shows their genetic information are unique and not found anywhere else in the world, according to the authors of the study titled “The Evolutionary History of Dogs in the Americas.”
But arrival of European colonists – and their dogs – likely led to shifts in cultural preferences and the persecution of indigenous dogs. Dogs living in the Americas before the 15th century, referred to as pre-contact dogs, could also have been susceptible to infectious diseases introduced by European dogs, said senior lead author Dr. Laurent Frantz from Queen Mary University of London and the Paleogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network.
“It is fascinating that a population of dogs that inhabited many parts of the Americas for thousands of years, and that was an integral part of so many Native American cultures, could have disappeared so rapidly,” said Frantz.
Pre-contact dogs likely did not migrate with the first humans to North America, instead arriving around 6,500 years later. But when they did arrive they were isolated for at least 9,000 years and as recently as 1,000 years ago, ancestors of the Inuit culture may have introduced Arctic dogs.
The second wave of dog breeds to the American continent would have been the European colonists’, followed much later by Siberian huskies who arrived around 1896 during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Arctic.
Researchers studied genetic information from 71 archaeological dog remains from North America and Siberia. Genetic remnants of pre-contact dogs survive and share a close link with a contagious genital cancer that is spread between dogs during mating. This last remaining trace of pre-contact dogs can now be found worldwide, the scientists found
The study included scientists from the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Queen Mary University of London and Durham University, all in Great Britain.