First Settlers In The Americas Brought Domesticated Wolves With Them, Study Says

Published January 26, 2021

"The dogs that accompanied them as they entered this completely new world may have been as much a part of their cultural repertoire as the stone tools they carried."

Settlers With Dogs Illustration

Ettore Mazza/TwitterNew DNA evidence suggests dogs were domesticated in Siberia as long as 23,000 years ago before traveling to the Americas alongside humans.

Dogs have been considered man’s best friend for millennia but when, exactly, did this loyal relationship begin? If a new study led by Durham University’s Dr. Angela Perri is correct, then our furry companions were domesticated much earlier than previously thought — and were brought to the Americas by the first people to settle there.

According to Phys, Dr. Perri’s international research team focused on both the genetic and archaeological records of ancient dogs and people to make this assessment. They discovered that the first humans to arrive in the Americas all the way from Siberia in northeast Asia more than 15,000 years ago were accompanied by their dogs, which means that wolves must have been domesticated sometime before this.

“By putting together the puzzle pieces of archaeology, genetics, and time we see a much clearer picture where dogs are being domesticated in Siberia, then disperse from there into the Americas and around the world,” said Perri.

Perri’s work posits that wolf domestication may have begun in Siberia 23,000 years ago then spread across the world as man and ancient wolf traveled together. Experts supported this theory by tracing the genetic split between Eurasian wolves and the earliest domesticated dogs.

Map Of Beringia

National Park ServiceDomesticated dogs are believed to have come to the Americas alongside humans over the long-lost Bering Strait about 15,000 years ago.

But differentiating between the remains of prehistoric Eurasian wolves and the first domesticated dogs isn’t easy. According to researchers, the earliest domestic dog remains in the archaeological record are generally believed to be about 15,000 years old and appear in Germany.

However, there is also another group of potential domesticated dogs that exist outside the archaeological record and that are much older. This haplogroup, or genetic population with only one ancestor, showed that the earliest known domesticated dog appeared about 22,800 years ago.

Consequently, the team compared the 22,800-year-old population with haplogroups that came more recently, like the ones that arrived in the Americas 15,000 years ago. They were then were able to construct a timeline of dogs and their genes as they were dispersed around the globe.

Eurasian Wolf

Wikimedia CommonsThe study showed Siberian hunters and Eurasian wolves worked in tandem to survive.

According to Science Alert, researchers found that domesticated wolves and people had taken the same routes tens of thousands of years ago. Researchers thus believe they took those routes out of Siberia and over the long-lost land bridge of Beringia (or the Bering Strait) into the Americas together.

“The only thing we knew for sure is that dog domestication did not take place in the Americas,” said geneticist Laurent Frantz from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. “From the genetic signatures of ancient dogs, we now know that they must have been present somewhere in Siberia before people migrated to the Americas.”

Because the Americas were one of the last regions to be settled, by the time domesticated wolves reached its shores, dog ancestors were likely already embedded into many human societies around the world.

“The dogs that accompanied them as they entered this completely new world may have been as much a part of their cultural repertoire as the stone tools they carried,” co-author and archaeologist David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University noted.

An informative PBS segment on the basics of wolf-to-dog domestication.

This study is groundbreaking in that it was previously believed dogs were domesticated across Eurasia in many places between China and Europe.

It is largely believed that this relationship between man and dog may have begun when unspeakably cold and dry conditions across Siberia and Beringia between 23,000 and 19,000 years ago forced them to find ways to survive together. Man and ancient wolf must have learned hunting and survival tactics from each other, eventually resulting in domestication.

Though more research is needed to support this study, for now, it appears that man and wolf have been living in tandem — and traveling together — much longer than we knew for certain.


Next up, read about the study that suggests dogs understand what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Then, learn about Viking explorer Leif Erikson, who likely arrived in the Americas 500 years before Columbus.

Marco Margaritoff
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff has also published work at outlets including People, VICE, and Complex, covering everything from film to finance to technology. He holds dual bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a master's degree from New York University.