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Posts Tagged ‘Pleistocene wolf’

18,000 year old puppy

A two-month-old puppy died 18,000 years ago, and it was preserved the permafrost near Yakutsk in Eastern Siberia.  I knew about this discovery a few weeks ago, but I was waiting DNA tests to see exactly what it was.  The late Pleistocene is when we start to see the beginnings of domestic dogs, and we do have some tantalizing subfossils of wolves with what might be exhibiting morphological characters suggesting domestication that date to even earlier than this puppy.  So it is an interesting find.

Indeed, any of these late Pleistocene gray wolves that are found in Eurasia could hold some mysteries about dog domestication.

But the initial DNA analysisrevealed that it does not match domestic dogs or extant gray wolves. This suggests that it might come from the ancestral population that leads to both.

Or it could mean that it is of a lineage of gray wolf that has since died out.

Of course, most media coverage of the discovery hint at this puppy being from the ancestral form, but it’s more likely that the latter is the disappointing answer.

More extensive genome analysis is going to be needed to determine what this gray wolf pup was.

Whatever it was, this puppy shows that these discoveries hold many mysteries in their DNA.

The puppy has been named “Dogor,” which means “friend” in the Yakutian language.  And he might have been just that– a friend to some band of Pleistocene hunters.

But for now, we can only speculate and wonder.

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yakutian megafaunal wolf

The Siberian Times reports that the head of a massive wolf was discovered in the permafrost in Yakutia (Sakha Republic of Russia).  The head includes much of the soft tissue, as well as its golden-colored fur. The head is 40 cm (15. 7 inches long), which is pretty large when compared to modern wolf specimens.

Researchers in Russia and Japan will be examining the DNA from the soft tissue to see where it fits in modern wolf and dog phylogeny of which there are still many questions.

This wolf is a good example of what have been termed “megafaunal wolves,” very large gray wolves that lived during the Pleistocene. Robert Wayne of UCLA, a leading canid molecular geneticists, thinks that some form of Pleistocene megafaunal wolf is the progenitor of the domestic dog.  These wolves would have been expert hunters of large bison, reindeer, and horses, and they may have been semi-nomadic, following large herds of ungulates across the steppes and taiga. These semi-nomadic wolves would have been quite easily attached to humans, who were hunting and traveling in much the same way.

Also of note, this wolf has golden colored fur.  In 2015, I postulated a speculative hypothesis that the original Pleistocene wolves were more often golden in color, rather than gray.  When humans started hunting wolves extensively during the Neolithic and into modern times, wolves that were gray were selected for because they could more easily hide from human hunters. Gray color in the dead of winter in many European and Western Asian forests would have been great camouflage against the winter tree trunks and undergrowth of the forest.

Some wolves, especially tundra wolves from northern Russia and Finland, are still often golden in color, as are those in Central Asia.

Golden sable color is quite widespread in domestic dogs, but it is far less common in wolves. So it is quite possible that this coloration is so dominant in domestic dogs because the wolves that gave rise to them were this color.

This massive wolf with golden fur certainly adds some credence to my speculations, but only time will tell what this ancient, massive wolf’s head has in store for us.

But is an amazing find. No doubt about it!

Update: Researchers in Sweden, not Japan or Russia, will be examining its DNA. 

 

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