Washington, Jan 13 (ANI): 9,400 years ago, humans not only used domesticated dogs as companions, workers and guardians, but also as food sources, says a new study.
Samuel Belknap III, a University of Maine graduate student doing research on ancient diets in southwest Texas, found bone fragments of the oldest known domesticated dog in the Americas during the analysis of an intact human paleofecal sample, reports Phyorg.com.
The bone found in human waste provides the earliest proof that humans in the New World used domesticated dogs as food sources.
"This is an important scientific discovery that can tell us not only a lot about the genetic history of dogs but also of the interactions between humans and dogs in the past," said Belknap.
"Not only were they most likely companions as they are today, they served as protection, hunting assistants, and also as a food source," he said.
Belknap discovered the bone, known as BE-20, while examining a paleofecal sample recovered in the 1970s from Hinds Cave, a major archeological site in southwest Texas near the Mexico border.
He and fellow UMaine graduate student Robert Ingraham first visually identified the bone as a fragment of the right occipital condyle, the place where the skull articulates with the atlas vertebra of the spine.
Ingraham also visually identified the bone at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, which indicated that the fragment closely matched that of a short-nosed Indian Dog from New Mexico.
The bone was then sent for a DNA analysis which, along with a a 2002 genetic study of archaeological dog specimens, supported the conclusion that BE-20 is from a domestic dog rather than a wolf, coyote or fox, and is closely related to a species of Peruvian dog.
The age of the bone and the paleofecal material were confirmed by radiocarbon dating.
Belknap said this was important because previously researchers thought they had found bones of even older dogs (about 11,000 years old) from the Jaguar Cave in Idaho. But when the bones were carbon dated, they turned out to be just 1,000 to 3,000 years old.
Judging from the size of the bone, which is just a centimetre-and-a-half long, Belknap believed the dog was fairly small, about 25-30 pounds.
He also found a second bone from the sample, but the fragment was too small to analyse because it might be the dog's foot.
According to ethnographic studies, dogs were consumed either in times of desperation or times of celebration.
Dogs were butchered in a specific way and may have been cooked in a stew, which could explain how bones from a skull and wrist or ankle ended up in the same paleofecal sample.
"It could be that the smaller bones broke off in the butchering process and found their way into a stew or soup," said Belknap.
The discovery will be documented in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology as well as other scientific journals. (ANI)