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Americas' oldest pet dog found

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

Oldest-known domesticated dog remains discovered on Haida Gwaii.

Haida Gwaii forms an archipelago off the northern Pacific coast of Canada, a string of limestone islands where karst caves abound. Only a handful of these caves have been explored by archaeologists, three of them on Huxley Island. But the results have been dog-gone excellent.

The latest digs, conducted in collaboration with Parks Canada and the Haida Nation, have been exploring the caves, known as K1, Gaadu Din I, and Gaadu Din 2. Work at Gaadu Din I suggests it was a bear den. Spearpoints and stone flake tools, perhaps dropped by hunters butchering their catches or from fatally wounded animals, date to over 11,000 years ago.

Gaadu Din 2 was probably a temporary camp. There, excavators uncovered a hearth, stone tools and resharpening flakes from refurbishing used tools, dated to between 12,500 and 10,700 years ago. The cave also contained animal bones, included those of brown bears and deer, both of which were hunted out of the Haida Gwaii archipelago by about 11,700 years ago. However, the most important and surprising find from this cave was a solitary tooth that was subjected to DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating.

It transpires that the tooth came from a domestic dog dated to 13,100 years ago. This makes it the oldest-known domesticated dog in the Americas. Most likely, hunting dogs arrived in Alaska either with, or soon after, the first settlers. The tooth therefore pushes back the date of human occupation of Haida Gwaii. Almost certainly, future discoveries will push first settlement back on the islands even earlier.

Image: Forested interior on Haida Gwaii. I bet your dog would love it here.

Credit: Sam Beebe

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