At DFC, we are, always and forever Team Dog. So much so, that I almost let my enthusiasm run away with me when I first saw news of this fascinating discovery: Swedish researchers are studying the body of a two-month-old puppy, found in the Siberian permafrost and estimated to have died 18,000 years ago. The puppy is so well preserved that it still has its wee perfect baby teeth, a sweet little nose, and soft, fuzzy fur over most of its body.
But there’s so much more to the puppy’s preservation than making me coo “Sweet boy!” at my tablet screen for far too long. This puppy is genetically neither a full dog that we would recognize nor a wolf — and may ultimately represent an intermediary stage in the history of domestication that we can finally study up close!
“‘We have a lot of data from it already, and with that amount of data, you’d expect to tell if it was one or the other,’ David Stanton, a researcher at the Centre for Palaeogenetics, told CNN. ‘The fact that we can’t might suggest that it’s from a population that was ancestral to both — to dogs and wolves.’ […]
The origin of dogs is still not completely clear, hence the importance of the new discovery. The first domesticated dogs emerged in Asia around 14,000 to 16,000 years ago, but genetic evidence suggests the divergence date between dogs and ancient wolves happened at some point between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.”
As a dog owner and fan, my heart goes out to the little pup, that met a sad (but evolutionarily necessary) end so long ago and has been encased in ice ever since. But now that it has time-travelled to our era, I’m so excited about its potential gifts to science! I hope we can learn more about this pupper’s canine descendants, and why and how they chose us, through its story.