Ancient American dogs were nearly eradicated after Europeans arrived

A new study sheds light on the history of dogs and their role in human life, though many mysteries remain. According to the study, indigenous dogs in the Americas experienced some sort of catastrophe likely after the arrival of Europeans settlers, who are believed to have brought their own dogs with them. However, a trace of these ancient canine remain in the DNA of modern dogs, and it comes in the form of a transmittable cancer.

The study is the result of an international effort that looked at the genetic data gathered from 71 ancient dog remains. These remains were sourced in the Americas, revealing that a rapid decline in the indigenous dog population took place following the arrival of settlers. No one is sure why, though, leaving speculation that it could have been a disease or something else entirely.

Modern dogs, the study reveals, contain almost no traces of those original dogs with one big exception: a cancer that is spread from dog to dog through mating, resulting in a malignant tumor. This disease arose in the dog population about 8,000 years ago, spreading from the earliest dogs and, over a long period of time, making its way to canine populations in every part of the world.

That disease, based on genetic analysis, originated from a close cousin of the Americas' earliest dogs and remains the only trace of those ancestors. Talking about the research is study senior lead author Dr. Laurent Frantz:

It is fascinating that a population of dogs that inhabited many parts of the Americas for thousands of years, and that was an integral part of so many Native American cultures, could have disappeared so rapidly. Their near-total disappearance is likely due to the combined effects of disease, cultural persecution and biological changes starting with the arrival of Europeans.

SOURCE: EurekAlert, Cambridge University