There are burial sites for dogs all over the Americas. Scientists doing a study of mitochondrial DNA found ways that ancient dogs are, in many ways, just like our own pets. But they also found something surprising!
Domestic dogs have been part of human civilization for 16,000 years. While they aren't always regarded as pets, most societies have a fondness for their dogs, and early American societies were no different. In North and South America, scientists have found "pet cemeteries" in which dogs were buried in a ritual manner. Dogs were often buried in their own graves, or buried together, back-to-back.
By analyzing the mitochondrial DNA in the dogs' remains, scientists found some interesting things. Early American societies seemed to do all the things we currently do with dogs — sometimes to their detriment. In some areas, it was clear the people preferred "wolf dogs," which had been interbred with local wolves. Other cemeteries were filled with dogs that were very inbred, showing that people had actively interbred a select few dogs—- possibly to get what we'd consider a "breed."
What surprised scientists, though, was that dogs were relatively new arrivals on the continent. The mitochondrial DNA only started branching out into different lines about 10,000 years ago. That means domestic dogs came late to the Americas. Exactly what this says about the habits, or migration patterns, of people in the Americas isn't certain.
Image: Randi Hausken.