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From the National Museum of Natural History, a 1957
anthropology diorama of a life group from
the arctic region entitled "Polar Eskimo, the
Northernmost People of the World." It formed part of
the "Native Peoples of the Americas"
Image:From the Historic Images Collection of the
The Evolutionary History of
Dogs in the Americas
Appearing in the July 6, 2018 issue of Science,
this recently published research has implications
for the archaeologic and genetic history of the
Inuit Sled Dog. Like a bolt of lightening over a
western forest on a dry day, this news caught on
fire with lots of mainstream media outlets. I see
this sort of like the game of telephone where the
initial story gets told over and over again with
perhaps a different skew, interpreted, perhaps, by
folks who do not necessarily possess a skilled
understanding in the field of evolutionary
biology. Well, neither do I, and that’s why I
contacted corresponding authors for an original
copy of the paper, did my best to read it (several
times) and then ask questions. I am grateful to
Dr. Greger Larson, who was kind and patient enough
Copyright rules do not permit me to
include here the original paper, but here is a link
to what is publically available which includes the
list of co-authors, including the corresponding
But wait, there’s
more! Also in this issue (volume 361) of Science
is “America’s lost dogs”. Again, because of
copyright rules, only an article summary is
publically available here.
This is an overview of “The Evolutionary History of
Dogs in the Americas” and is easier for
non-scientists to understand and I venture to
suggest that the authors are in a better position to
give this overview than some of the mainstream
media’s interpretations. “America’s lost dogs”
includes the email for the corresponding author, if
you want a complete copy.
Below is a dialogue I initiated on
July 5th with Dr. Larson. Again, I am grateful to
him for his enlightenment.
TFH: Would you
consider precontact populations of dogs to be
GL: Yes, by
definition all dogs are (or descend from) domestic
TFH: Please forgive me. I have
read and re-read this sentence at least a dozen
times and I am totally hung up on the ”all dogs
are...(or descend from) domestic populations.”
I read this as all dogs descend from domestic
populations. No wild progenitors? How could that be?
GL: I’m saying that
dogs only emerge through a close interaction with
people. Rather, without people there are no dogs.
Just wolves. Sometimes dogs can be introduced to a
new place with people and then go feral (dingoes),
in which case they can’t really be classified as
‘domestic’, but they descend from a domestic
population that only arose via a relationship with
people. Therefore it is impossible for dogs to have
been in North America prior to the arrival of
TFH: Would you consider
precontact populations of dogs to be described as
GL: If you like.
I wouldn’t call them ‘breeds’ per se since that’s a
Victorian construct, but they were dogs.
TFH: This is an excellent
point, one that I have emphasized when trying to
explain the demise of aboriginal and real working
dogs during the Victorian era of developing dogs for
show and pets. And it begs my question of when does
a (real working) or aboriginal landrace lose its
original genetic identity and potential, and become
a cultured breed of a different kind.
GL: It’s a continuum and the
definitions are arbitrary, but the distinctions can
be interesting in terms of what they reveal about
the changing relationships between people and dogs.
TFH: “..following the
arrival of European dogs after colonization…”
When and where do you define European colonization?
I am specifically interested in the Canadian Arctic
and Greenland. Long before “colonization”,
non-native populations were in these areas on
various exploration missions.
GL: For the purpose of
the paper we’re sticking with convention and going
TFH: “Introduction of Eurasian
Arctic Dogs (e.g. Siberian Huskies) during the
Alaska gold rush..” The arrival of pre-Siberian
Huskies, known as Chuckchi dogs pre-dates the gold
rush era. What the gold rush era signifies in terms
of the arrival to that geographic region is the
“import” of non-indigenous European origin dogs
brought by gold seekers. (Think of the dogs in Jack
London stories.) Many, but not exclusively were
European mastiff types, as identified by historic
photographs. Some were Icelandic dogs.
TFH: “…some modern
American dogs retain a degree of ancestry from
precontact populations…” How do you
define “a degree of ancestry”? Are these not in
some, but not all cases, legitimate uncontaminated
landraces, such as the Canadian Inuit Sled Dog?
GL: There are
lots of complicated things going on in the North. If
you look at the tree we’ve focused on the
identification of the PCD clade which is closely
related, but different from the clade of Arctic dogs
which have their own story, and one we’re following
up in a study we’re working on right now.
TFH: Wow! This is exciting, and
work I eagerly look forward to reading about. One
thing that concerns me greatly is the source of the
material you will be examining, specifically from
live dogs. Dmitry Belyayev’s classic work with foxes
demonstrated the stunning phenotype and behavior
changes resulting from breeding solely based on
reduced flight distance to humans. There is no doubt
(as has been shown time and time again since the
Victorian England era the drastic changes when dogs
are not bred primarily based on working
functionality) that purebred/cultured polar spitz
breeds have changed in appearance and behavior as
well as loss of intrinsic aboriginal
working/survival skills. The landrace Eskimo Dog
of the early 1900s was in short order turned into
the cultured and thoroughly diminished Alaskan
Malamute breed. I am concerned how examining
DNA kennel club registered show/pet dogs can be
substituted for the more enlightening DNA from
aboriginal landrace dogs. It is great that you are
aware of Dr. Morton Meldgaard’s QIMMEQ
project. At least when those aboriginal Greenland
Dogs are examined, they genetically represent the
dogs of Canada as well. Will your project seek to
obtain DNA from dogs much closer to their aboriginal
GL: We have mostly
ancient remains but I think we may now be
collaborating with a different group and they have
sampled modern populations.
TFH: “..archaeological dog
remains collected in North America…” At what
latitude were these collected? Were they
representative of dogs, originally called Eskimo
Dogs, now known collectively as the Inuit Sled Dog,
the landrace which includes both the Canadian Inuit
Sled Dog and the Greenland Dog? Both have been
determined by morphometric and genetic analysis to
be the same landrace
GL: You can see
the map that shows the location of the ancient dogs
we analyzed. And see my answer above.
TFH: Where do you separate
from each other “modern and ancient canids”?
GL: For our purposes
‘ancient’ simply means archaeological remains.
Modern means recent dogs that were sampled when they
TFH: Why has no mention been
made of the Canadian Inuit Sled Dog?
GL: We did not have any
samples of this dog and we are working on a paper
about Thule and Arctic dogs now.
TFH: Why has any mention been
made of the Alaskan Malamute, which did not
exist prior to 1935 American Kennel Club
registration? The progenitor of the
Alaskan Malamute was the (then called) Eskimo dog of
the Kotzebue Sound region of Alaska and also
Labrador! Did you examine DNA from Alaskan
Malamutes, which is not ancient (as some biologists
have reported), not a landrace, but as a
GL: We are aware of
this issue (see Larson, et al. Proceedings of the Natl.
Academy of Sciences 2012). The Malamute DNA
was published by other authors and we simply made
use of that data here to show how it’s related to
all the dogs we sequenced.
TFH: Alaskan Huskies, a
cross-breed, are the very definition of the subject
of the blind men and the elephant! While early on
they may have represented entirely polar phenotype
dogs (such as the Alaskan bush dogs), since the
early 1900s they have been deliberately mixed up
with non-polar phenotype dogs such as pointers and
hounds (of European origin) in order to excel as
racing dogs. Why are they grouped in the same
mention with Alaskan Malamutes and Greenland Dogs?
GL: Because their
genomes cluster together on the tree.
TFH: Could you please
summarize the rest of the article.
GL: Our analysis
demonstrated that there is very little if any
genetic legacy of the dogs that were present in the
Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans, in the
dog population that is now present throughout the