January 19, 2011

Ancient Dog Bone Discovered In Human Waste Remains

A University of Maine graduate student has discovered a bone from what experts believe may be the earliest domesticated dog ever found in the Americas--a 9,400 year old canine skull fragment that was discovered in remains of human waste.

The student, Samuel Belknap III, was analyzing human excrement samples obtained nearly 40 years ago in southwest Texas. Belknap was studying the eating habits of residents of the state's Lower Pecos region between 1,000 and 10,000 years ago when he discovered the bone fragment.

Carbon dating confirmed that the fossil was more than 9,000 years old, and a DNA test definitively proved that it was indeed a dog bone, not a wolf, coyote, or fox, the Maine researcher told Clarke Canfield of the Associated Press (AP) on Wednesday.

The discovery of the bone (identified as BE-20) in human waste, coupled with the fact that its orange-brown color illustrates that it had passed through a digestive tract, proves that ancient humans viewed canines as a food source.

"This is an important scientific discovery that can tell us not only a lot about the genetic history of dogs but of the interactions between humans and dogs in the past," Belknap said in a statement. "Not only were they most likely companions as they are today, they served as protection, hunting assistants, and also as a food source."

His findings will be published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

"I didn't start out looking for the oldest dog in the New World," Belknap said. "I started out trying to understand human diet in southwest Texas. It so happens that this person who lived 9,400 years ago was eating dog."

"It just goes to show that sometimes, great scientific discoveries come not when we are looking for specific answers but when we are thorough we are in our examination of the evidence and open to what data it provides," he added.


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