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Noon Edition

The Ancestry Of Arctic Sled Dogs

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D:      Yaël, I’ve been wondering where the dogs that pull sleds in the North American arctic come from.

Y:      Don, dogs and their closest wild relatives; wolves, both came to North America from Eurasia. The earliest dogs in the Americas were introduced at least ten thousand years ago. They probably came with early human settlers across the Bering land bridge during the last ice age. But since then, there have been many migrations of genetically distinctive human groups into the North American arctic from Asia. They may have brought distinctive breeds of dogs with them.

D:      With all those different migrations, it sounds like a complicated mess. How could scientists hope to sort out which modern arctic dog breeds came from which ancient ancestors?

Y:      One way is DNA testing. In 2019 a large international team of genetic researchers published a study based on analyzing the DNA of nine hundred twenty-one North American dogs and wolves. They took some samples from living animals, and others from archeological remains up to four thousand five hundred years old. They discovered that arctic sled dogs have a distinctive ancestry.

D:      So, where do these dogs come from?

Y:      The researchers discovered that arctic sled dogs are descended from a type of dog introduced by the Inuit people when they migrated into the North American arctic from Siberia just two thousand years ago. They were spread rapidly across the North American arctic by the Inuit, and today are the preferred sled dogs for all the people who live in that region.

Sled dogs in the arctic.

(Denali National Park and Preserve, Wikimedia Commons)

Dogs and their closest wild relatives, wolves, both came to North America from Eurasia. The earliest dogs in the Americas were introduced at least ten thousand years ago. 

They probably came with early human settlers across the Bering land bridge during the last ice age. But since then, there have been many migrations of genetically distinctive human groups into the North American arctic from Asia. They may have brought distinctive breeds of dogs with them.

With all of these different migrations, sorting out which modern arctic dog breeds came from which ancient ancestors is quite complicated. One method scientists use to sort it all out is DNA testing.

In 2019 a large international team of genetic researchers published a study based on analyzing the DNA of 921 North American dogs and wolves. They took some samples from living animals, and others from archaeological remains up to 4,500 years old. 

They discovered that arctic sled dogs have a distinctive ancestry. The researchers concluded that arctic sled dogs are descended from a type of dog introduced by the Inuit people when they migrated into the North American arctic from Siberia just two thousand years ago.

They were spread rapidly across the North American arctic by the Inuit, and today are the preferred sled dogs for all the people who live in that region.

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