Scientists in Sweden have recently announced the discovery of an 18,000-year-old puppy that was found frozen in the Siberian permafrost last summer. The specimen is the “oldest confirmed dog” in history.
Researchers said they were unsure whether the preserved animal was a dog or a wolf because it was dated to a period when dogs were domesticated but wolves were still running wild.
The specimen has been named “Dogor,” which is said to be a Yakutian word for “friend,” according to the Centre for Paleogenetics.
We now have some news on the 18,000 year old #wolf or #dog puppy.
Genome analyses shows it's a male. So we asked our Russian colleagues to name it…
Thus, the name of the puppy is Dogor!
Dogor is a Yakutian word for "friend", which seems very suitable. pic.twitter.com/epIz8mEpVW
— Centre for Palaeogenetics (@CpgSthlm) November 25, 2019
Two of the researchers who have studied the animal, Love Dalén and Dave Stanton, believe that this discovery could teach us more about the early domestication of dogs.
Dalén is a professor of evolutionary genetics and he seemed very confident of the estimated date. Dalén explained:
“It was amazingly well preserved even before they cleaned it up. [When we found it] we didn’t know how old it was. They said they found it in the permafrost but it happens that things get frozen in there that are only a few hundred years old or even a few decades. We were excited about it but we had a healthy dose of skepticism until we radiocarbon dated it. Obviously, when we got the results that it was 18,000 years old, that changes everything. When we got that result it was amazing. 18,000 years ago is an interesting time period where we think a lot of stuff is happening with both wolves and dogs genetically.”
“We cannot separate it from a modern wolf, Pleistocene [Ice Age] wolf or dog. One reason why it might be difficult to say is because this one is right there at the divergence time. So it could be a very early modern wolf or very early dog or a late Pleistocene wolf,” he added.
While the discovery was made last year in a remote part of north-east Siberia, the researchers are just now releasing photos of the amazing find. The nearest town to the discovery site is Belaya Gora, which is a few hours away.
Stanton surmised that the animal was so well preserved because it was trapped in a tunnel in the permafrost.
Amazingly preserved puppy with whiskers, eyelashes, hair and velvety nose intact puzzle scientists. DNA tests on the 18,000-year-old Siberian canine cannot define if it's a wolf or a dog https://t.co/MNSInirNui pic.twitter.com/F1bGjGiWQq
— The Siberian Times (@siberian_times) November 25, 2019
“I feel fairly nervous about messing something up in the lab. You don’t want to screw it up. It seems that dogs were domesticated from a lineage of wolves that went extinct. So that’s why it’s such a difficult problem to work on to understand where and when dogs were domesticated. If you want to find the answer to that you need to look at ancient samples because the population they were domesticated from doesn’t appear to be around anymore. It’s specimens like this that could help clear that up but we don’t have the results yet to speculate on that,” Stanton said.
The rib bone of the specimen is in Sweden with Dalén and Stanton, but the rest of the animal’s remains, including the fur, is being studied by Sergey Fedorov in Russia.
“Just imagine, this puppy has been lying underground in the same pose and condition for 18,000 years without being disturbed at all. I really carefully removed the dirt and other debris stuck to its body step by step, revealing a wonderful condition fur which is extremely rare for animals of that time period,” Federov said.