Dogs 'were first tamed in Siberia' and came with settlers to America 15,000 years ago

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The first settlers in America were likely accompanied by dogs (Ettore Mazza)
The first settlers in America were likely accompanied by dogs. (Ettore Mazza)

The first settlers in America 15,000 years ago brought their own dogs with them from north-east Asia, indicating that humans first domesticated dogs in Siberia.

The new find suggests that man first tamed dogs more than 23,000 years ago in Siberia, then travelled west into Europe and Asia and east into America.

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), are based on archaeological and genetic records.

The Americas were one of the last areas of the world to be settled by human beings – and by that point, dogs had been domesticated from their wolf ancestors.

Dogs and humans may have started to work together in an icy period around 20,000 years ago, the researchers believe, at first “mutually scavenging” dead animals.

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Research lead author Dr Angela Perri, of the department of archaeology at Durham University, said: "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.

"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."

During the Last Glacial Maximum, between 23,000 and 19,000 years ago, Beringia, the land and sea area between Canada and Russia, and most of Siberia, was extremely cold, dry and largely unglaciated.

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The harsh conditions of this period may have served to bring human and wolf populations into close proximity, even hunting the same prey.

The researchers believe that mutual scavenging of kills from wolves drawn to human campsites may have sparked the relationship between the species, with the increasing interaction eventually leading to dog domestication.

Co-author David Meltzer, of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, said: "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.

"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."

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