In Depth

Frozen ‘dog’: 18,000-year-old puppy confuses scientists

DNA sequencing has failed to determine species of the frozen animal

Researchers have been left mystified by a frozen prehistoric puppy discovered in the Siberian wilderness that could be a dog or a wolf - or possibly the missing link between the two species. 

The male animal was discovered last summer near the eastern city of Yakutsk and is perfectly preserved by permafrost, with “its fur, nose and teeth all intact”, says the BBC. Carbon dating shows the pup died around 18,000 years, during the last Ice Age, at the age of just two months. 

The puppy has been dubbed Dogor, which means “friend” in the local Yakut language, “as well as referencing the question ‘dog or wolf?’”, notes The Telegraph

The researchers, from the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm, have been puzzling over that question after extensive DNA tests failed to shed light on Dogor’s ancestry. 

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“It’s normally relatively easy to tell the difference between the two,” David Stanton, a member of the Sweden-based team, told CNN

“We have a lot of data from [Dogor] already, and with that amount of data, you’d expect to tell if it was one or the other. The fact that we can’t might suggest that it’s from a population that was ancestral to both - to dogs and wolves.” 

The puppy is from “a very interesting time in terms of wolf and dog evolution” as “we don’t know exactly when dogs were domesticated, but it may have been from about that time”, added Stanton, who says his team now plan to run further genome data tests in a bid to crack the mystery.

A 2017 study published in the journal Nature Communications revealed that modern dogs were probably domesticated from a single wolf population between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, but this new discovery could give scientists a more precise date range.

However, as Stanton explains, “it seems that dogs were domesticated from a lineage of wolves that went extinct, so that’s why it’s such a difficult problem to work on to understand where and when dogs were domesticated”.

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