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DNA of pre-historic puppy, found in Yakutia, to be analyzed in Denmark

Scientists want to find out whether the puppy was a dog, a wolf or their common progenitor

YAKUTSK, October 12. /TASS/. DNA samples of a pre-historic puppy, Tumat-1, found in northern Yakutia in 2011, will be tested in Denmark. Scientists want to find out whether the puppy was a dog, a wolf or their common progenitor, Sergei Fyodorov of the North-Eastern Federal University told TASS.

In 2011, people living in the Tumat village in Yakutia’s north-east found remains of a puppy, which later on was dubbed Tumat puppy-1. In 2012, the Netherlands’ University of Groningen said the remains’ geological age was about 12,500 years.

In 2015 and 2018, specialists found in the region two more remains of puppies - Tumat puppy-2 and Dogor. The three discoveries have been studied at the North-Eastern Federal University under the project Pleistocene and Postglacial Canids from Yakutia’s Permafrost.

"The ancient dog and wolf do not differ much. In fact, the dog is a wolf with more tolerant attitudes towards humans. The young age of the findings (the puppies were 2-4 months old) complicates identification, and their morphology features are not evident. After first examinations, zoologists tend to suppose those were dog puppies. Thus, in 2015, specialists examined the area next to the place where the remains had been found to see traces of human settlement. No settlement was found, but the expedition found bone tools, and perhaps the place where a large mammoth was butchered, and nearby that place the expedition members found a frozen mummified carcass of another puppy [it was Tumat puppy-2]. We plan to send additional DNA samples to Copenhagen," Fyodorov said.

The North-Eastern Federal University’s Museum of Mammoth and the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Siberian Branch’s Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography organized an expedition in 2015. During that expedition, researchers found remains of the second prehistoric puppy some 2.5 meters down the hill from the first puppy. Scientists say, the puppies must have been from the same litter.

What ancient puppies ate

The project Pleistocene and Postglacial Canids from Yakutia’s Permafrost features specialists from Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Japan - representatives of fundamental and applied sciences, museum and university experts. The scientists hope to find out what diet those puppies had, what migration routes the predators followed; they also want to reconstruct structures of the palaeoflora and palaeofauna.

In 2018, Tumat puppy-1’s stomach was dissected during a scientific seminar at the Vienna Museum of Natural History. During the study, in addition to twigs, earth and leaves, in it was found a fragment of a skin with small hair with very smooth edges. "I assumed it was a fragment of rhino skin from its limb. We often get body parts of extinct animals in a frozen state, including rhinoceros. The texture and color of the fur were similar to the rhinoceros skins I had seen before. The smooth edges of the fragment suggest that the piece of skin was probably separated by the hand of an ancient man," the scientist said.

According to him, DNA tests of this skin fragment from the stomach of Tumat puppy-1, conducted at the Swedish Center for Palaeogenetics supervised by Professor Love Dalen, confirmed that in the stomach was a skin fragment of a prehistoric rhinoceros which lived at the same time with the puppy. The researchers will make tests of Tumat puppy-2’s stomach.

"How could the rhino skin fragment get into the puppy's stomach? There may be several options: the puppy could pick up and eat this piece at a settlement of ancient people, and it was not far from the place of death and shortly before the death, since the piece had not digested in the stomach. It is also possible that the mother fed her puppies with regurgitated meat, and that was how the piece of skin got into the stomach," the scientist said.

Dogor is the most popular name for dogs in Yakutia: the word may be translated as "friend." This name was given to another puppy, which the locals found in August 2018, as they hunted for mammoth tusks. Luckily, at that time a group of foreign scientists was in Yakutia, and Professor Love Dalen jointly with local scientists examined and described the remains.

The animal’s age is about 18,000 years, but the DNA test could not specify whether it was a wolf, a dog or their common progenitor - even though Sweden has the biggest DNA bank of extinct and modern canids.

Here is very interesting the Dogor quirk: in the Yakut language Dogor means "friend", and in English it may be split into two words - "dog" and "or" - which may be read as "dog or." The remains are in very good conditions: milk teeth, eyelashes, whiskers.

First domesticated dogs appeared in Yakutia about eight thousand years ago. The animals lived on the Zhokhov Island in the East Siberian Sea - the northernmost point of human settlement in the Eurasian Arctic. It was there, at the area of an ancient settlement, that archaeologists discovered both remains of dogs and the sledge. The scientists supposed ancient people could move and carry goods on dog sleds. There are reasons to believe that some particularly large dogs helped people in hunting bears.

However, studies of the puppies may significantly push back the likely dates of dogs' domestication. "We hope that the research will contribute to the study of canine evolution and the problems of dog domestication," Fyodorov said, noting that full-scale work on the project would resume in Denmark and Sweden after the situation with spread of coronavirus had improved.