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America's Ancient Dogs Shed Light on Human Migration

Jan 07, 2015 06:59 PM EST

America's ancient dogs aren't just shedding light on the movements of these canines, but also on human migration as well, according to new research.

In the largest analysis so far of ancient dogs from this region, researchers found that these four-legged animals migrated to the Americas only about 10,000 years ago - that's thousands of years after the first humans crossed a land bridge from Siberia to North America.

"Dogs are one of the earliest organisms to have migrated with humans to every continent, and I think that says a lot about the relationship dogs have had with humans," study leader Kelsey Witt, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, said in a statement. "They can be a powerful tool when you're looking at how human populations have moved around over time."

That is, when human remains aren't around for study, which can often be the case.

Researchers, in line with what previous studies have done, focused on the dogs' mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down from the mother and easier to study, at least compared to nuclear DNA. This DNA came from 84 individual dogs from more than a dozen sites in North and South America, including Colorado, southern Illinois and British Columbia.

Their analysis found not only, and most importantly, that dogs arrived on the scene in the Americas earlier than previously thought - only 10,000 years ago - but that ancient dogs boasted a lot of diversity and even had genetic similarities with American wolves.

Despite seeing our furry friends as part of the family today, thousands of years ago researchers now have reason to believe that humans consumed dogs as evidenced by burnt dog remains.

However, dogs have largely benefitted from being in the presence of humans. For one, they gained new food sources, enjoyed the safety of human households and eventually even traveled the world with their masters.

These findings, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, help to shed light on the movements of these mangy mutts as well as early humans.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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