The rapidly developing field of ancient DNA studies is in many ways revolutionizing the study of archaeological animals, including those of dogs. Study of DNA recovered from skeletal remains can of course help identify a dog’s relationship to other canids, including wolves and modern dogs. As the field has advanced, however, the power of such studies is moving far beyond such identification work. Recovery of nuclear DNA provides a much higher resolution picture of the evolution of dogs through time, but can also be used to understand a range of other characteristics of past dogs.
For example, such studies allow one to better assess if ancient dogs were occasionally breeding with wolves, a practice which is widely described in communities across the north. Further, these advanced DNA studies should allow us to trace out the geographical movements of populations of dogs, which in many cases occurred when these animals migrated to new regions with their human counterparts. Studies of nuclear DNA even provides insight on the general colour of ancient dogs coats! When such information is paired with the archaeological, osteological, and chemical studies described on our other pages, one can produce a far richer picture of peoples’ relationships with dogs than ever before thought possible.
Our project’s DNA research is designed and conducted by Dr. Greger Larson, through his team’s major grant from the Natural Environment Research Council in the United Kingdom.