9400 year old domestic dog bones found in Texas

Posted By elaine on January 19, 2011

old dogNearly 10,000 years ago, man’s best friend roamed the earth with humans, but he may not have been just for companionship.

That’s what researchers are saying after finding a bone fragment from what they are calling the earliest confirmed domesticated dog in the Americas.University of Maine graduate student Samuel Belknap III came across the fragment while analyzing a dried-out sample of human waste unearthed in southwest Texas in the 1970s.  A carbon-dating test put the age of the bone at 9,400 years, and a DNA analysis confirmed it came from a dog — not a wolf, coyote or fox, Belknap said.

Because it was found deep inside a pile of human excrement and was the characteristic orange-brown color that bone turns when it has passed through the digestive tract, the fragment provides the earliest direct evidence that dogs — besides being used for company, security and hunting — were eaten by humans and may even have been bred as a food source, he said.

Belknap wasn’t researching dogs when he found the bone. Rather, he was looking into the diet and nutrition of the people who lived in the Lower Pecos region of Texas between 1,000 and 10,000 years ago.

“It just so happens this person who lived 9,400 years ago was eating dog,” Belknap said.

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.

The paper has been scientifically reviewed and accepted, pending revisions, for publication in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology later this year, said editor in chief Christopher Ruff. He declined comment on the article until it has been published.

There are archaeological records 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, said Robert Wayne, a professor of evolutionary biology at UCLA and a dog evolution expert. But canine records in the New World aren’t as detailed or go back nearly as far.dog bones

The fragment is about six-tenths of an inch long and three- to four-tenths of an inch wide, or about the size of a fingernail on a person’s pinkie

Judging by the size of the bone, Belknap figures the dog weighed about 25 to 30 pounds. He also found what he thinks was a bone from a dog foot, but the fragment was too small to be analyzed.

It doesn’t surprise Belknap that dogs were a source of food for humans.  A lot of people in Central America regularly ate dogs, he said. Across the Great Plains, some Indian tribes ate dogs when food was scarce or for celebrations, he said.

“It was definitely an accepted practice among many populations,” he said.

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