Genetic records reveal how valuable dogs were to ancient societies

Dogs have been a part of human societies for thousands of years, and though they are more often than not a companion in modern times, they were highly valuable commodities in ancient days. That's according to a new study from the University of Copenhagen where researchers studied ancient dogs' genetic records, among other things, to track their movements over time.

While these ancient societies were fairly isolated, that wasn't the case with dogs, according to the new study. Genetic diversity revealing the movement of these dogs indicates that ancient societies likely traded the animals, possibly as a valuable commodity. The dogs likely served important roles in these societies.

As with modern examples of working dogs, these ancient canines were likely used to help herd livestock, hunt, and, depending on the environment, pull sleds. This study looked at ancient Siberian societies, in particular, noting that while groups of humans remained genetically isolated, the dogs showed diversity indicating they interacted with dogs from other communities.

This ancient dog trading took place at least 2,000 years ago but may have started even earlier, according to the researchers. The study notes that some of the genetic diversity among these ancient dogs happened alongside big societal changes in human societies, including the use of reindeer for transportation and the beginning of ironwork.

Modern dogs share some ancient DNA with their ancestors, including Siberian Huskies and Samoyeds. Perhaps on a more gruesome note, the researchers also found that dogs were used as resources after dying, including for fur to make clothing. Whereas pet dogs are companions, these ancient societies likely viewed them as valuable workers that aided humans.