Researchers unearth evidence of America’s earliest dog … and proof that it was eaten
A University of Maine graduate student says he has found a bone fragment from what he believes is the earliest domesticated dog ever found in the Americas — one that walked the continent 9,400 years ago.
And where he found it — ensconced in a dried-out sample of human waste — gives proof that eating dog was part of America’s culture, at least before America was America.
Graduate student Samuel Belknap III came across the fragment while analyzing a sample of human waste unearthed in the 1970s. Carbon-dating placed the age of the bone at 9,400 years, and a DNA analysis confirmed it came from a dog — as opposed to a wolf, coyote or fox.
The Associated Press reports that the fragment — which was the dark orange color characteristic of bone that has passed through the digestive track — was found in Hinds Cave in southwest Texas.
The fragment provides the earliest evidence that dogs were eaten by humans in North America, and may have been bred as a food source, he said.
Belknap was studying the diet and nutrition of the people in the Lower Pecos region of Texas between 1,000 and 10,000 years ago when he came across the bone.
Belknap and other researchers from the University of Maine and the University of Oklahoma’s molecular anthropology laboratories, where the DNA analysis was done, have written a paper on their findings, scheduled for publication in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology later this year.
The fragment is about six-tenths of an inch long and three- to four-tenths of an inch wide. Belknap said he and a fellow student identified the bone as a fragment from where the skull connects with the spine. He said it came from a dog that probably resembled the small short-haired dogs that were common among the Indians of the Great Plains.
Other archaeological findings have found evidence of domestic dogs in the U.S. as long as 8,000 years ago.
A 1980s study reported dog bones found at Danger Cave, Utah, were between 9,000 and 10,000 years old, but those dates were based on an analysis of the surrounding rock laters as opposed to carbon dating. In Idaho, researchers believed they’d found 11,000-year-old dog bones, but later tests showed them to be no more than 3,000 years old.
Worldwide, studies have found evidence of dogs going back 31,000 years from a site in Belgium, 26,000 years in the Czech Republic and 15,000 years in Siberia.
The earliest dogs in North America are believed to have come with the early settlers across the Bering land bridge from Asia.
Belknap said eating dogs was once common in Central America, and that some Great Plain Indian tribes ate dogs when food was scarce or for celebrations.
“It was definitely an accepted practice among many populations,” he said.
Posted by John Woestendiek January 19th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, analysis, anthropology, archaeology, ate, bone, carbon dating, diet, digested, dna, dog, domesticated, earliest, eaten, evidence, excrement, first, fragment, hinds cave, human, indians, nutrition, oldest, research, samuel belknap, study, texas, university of maine, waste