Skip to main content

More than 10,000 years ago, it is believed that dogs first entered North America by being brought over by settlers traveling through the Bering Land Bridge, a bridge that used to connect North America and Asia.

These dogs were the first domesticated animals that Native American societies were exposed to, and they soon played an important role as being part of their family.

Robert Losey, who is an associate professor of archeology specializing in human-animal relationships at the University of Alberta, spoke to National Geographic on the topic: “Dogs had very special place in these indigenous communities. They were the only animals that people were living with and they were the only animals people were burying.”

But these first American dogs disappeared shortly after European dogs entered the Americas around the 1500s. The mystery of why these North American ancient dogs disappeared has been attributed to several theories.

One theory of the disappearance was that the American dogs died of disease brought over from European dogs, much like their human counterparts. Another theory was that American dogs were simply no longer bred, as they were deemed inferior to European dogs. While these theories are still plausible, a new discovery of dog DNA may finally solve this mystery.

Angela Perri, zooarchaelogist at Durham University, looked at 71 mitochondrial genomes, or DNA that’s passed from a mother dog to a puppy, and seven nuclear genomes of ancient North American and Siberian remains, and compared them to the genetics of 5,000 modern dogs.

It was discovered that the genomes of the ancient dogs were more closely matched with Siberian dogs, with no resemblance to the genetic signature of North American dogs of today. This discovery solidified that that the original North American dogs truly disappeared, being replaced by Eurasian canines.

It was also discovered that the ancient dog DNA matched with a sexually transmitted cancer, which continues to live on to this day. In fact, it’s the world’s oldest propagated cell line. This cancer might explain why the first American dogs died out. It’s possible that these dogs were particularly susceptible to the cancer, wiping them out.

Though modern dog breeds are not descendants of ancient North American dogs, strangely, their legacy lives on through the cancer, which contains part of their dog DNA.  

Image via gerasimov_foto_174/Shutterstock

For more interesting news stories, check out these articles:

New App DoggZam! Can Identify Dog Breed With Just a Photo

Japanese Artist Uses Needle Felting to Make Realistic Cat

Search and Rescue Dog Tino Finds Missing Dog Stuck in Mud

Montreal Kids Get Schooled on Dog Behavior by Fuzzy Mentors

Owner Buys $500,000 Dog Mansion for Border Collie

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?