Scientists Say Russian Islanders were World’s First Dog Breeders

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Hard to imagine dog breeding in the prehistoric days 9,000 years ago, but scientists believe that the inhabitants of the Russian Island Zhokhov were doing just that. The ancient earth-dwellers captured wolves and purposely bred them as smaller dogs to pull their sleds and hunt bears.

The island once was connected to the land of Siberia. When the seas rose, and the land connecting Zohkhov to Siberia washed out, the island was formed. The stone age people hunted reindeer in addition to polar bears, and they traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles across the large plains of the land.

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Russian Archaeologist Vladimir Pitulko, with the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, said that the natives needed transportation that was strong and quick in order to meet their hunting goals. Pitulko has been excavating Zhokhov since 1989, where he’d previously found dog bones and wooden sled remains, but was never able to clearly tell where the animals came from and whether or not they were bred to be sled dogs.

That is not the case now, according to Pitulko, who has confirmed that the canines were actually dogs, and not wolves. Together with fellow archaeozoologist Aleksey Kasparov, he found that the ratio of snout height to skull length and cranium height to skill length was able to reliably discern between wild wolves and bred canines. The team compared the skull remains with those of wolves and Siberian Huskies of the same area, and found that the remains they found were clearly dogs and not wolves or Huskies. One even appeared to be a wolf-dog hybrid.

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Pitulko said the dogs were obviously purposed to do something special and he surmises that the native Russians reduced the size of the wolves because they were too large to pull sleds as they were heavy and could overheat. The researchers believe the hybrid dog may have been bred to hunt polar bears.

It is believed that if this is evidence of an actual purposed breeding program, it would be the earliest evidence of one. Pitkulko says that prior to the earth warming and waters rising, there wasn’t necessarily a need for dogs to aid in helping hunt or get places.

[Source: Science]


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