WASHINGTON — A trio of dogs buried at two ancient human sites in Illinois lived around 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest known domesticated canines in the Americas.
Radiocarbon dating of the dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist Angela Perri said April 13 at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves. Until now, nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a Texas site were the oldest physical evidence of American canines.
Ancient dogs at the Midwestern locations also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, said Perri, of Durham University in England. A dog buried at Germany’s Bonn-Oberkassel site around 14,000 years ago was included in a two-person grave. Placement of the Americas dogs in their own graves indicates that these animals were held in high regard by ancient people.
An absence of stone tool incisions on the three ancient dogs’ skeletons indicates that they were not killed by people, but died of natural causes before being buried, Perri said.
Some researchers have proposed that whoever made the first excursions into the Americas arrived on dog-powered sleds. People had reached South America at least 15,000 years ago (SN: 12/26/15, p. 10), well before ancient people buried dogs at Illinois’ Koster…
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