Ben Fadlon and his dog Hetsi show their skills for an AFP photographer during the men's qualifying series of the World Surf League SEAT Pro Netanya, on January 21, 2017, in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya.  Ben Fadlon and his dog Hetsi show their skills for an AFP photographer during the men's qualifying series of the World Surf League SEAT Pro Netanya, on January 21, 2017, in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya. Dogs and humans have been friends for a very long time. (Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Dogs have been wandering America longer than we knew

Ancient skeletons found in Illinois are more than 10,000 years old.

This story starts with some very old dog skeletons.

Archaeologists found three dog skeletons in Illinois that seemed to be about 9,500 years old. But recently, a new team of scientists performed new radiocarbon dating and found that the skeletons were actually more than a thousand years older. That's a new record: apparently dogs were in America much longer than we previously knew. And yet, the skeletons still weren't quite old enough to demonstrate something scientists had long suspected but never proved.

Scientists think dogs were first domesticated near Israel at least 14,000 years ago. People migrated through Asia, into Siberia, across the icy tundra of the North Pole and into North and South America, some arriving in Chile over 18,000 years ago. You'd think they'd bring the dogs, but there's no evidence for that.

“We don’t know if they were part of the first waves of immigration to the Americas,” Luc Janssens, an archaeologist at Ghent University in Belgium, told New Scientist. “It could be so, but no archaeological bones have yet been found.”

The three Illinois skeletons are the oldest dog remains in the Americas, and they're only around 10,000 years old. They're basically archaeological pups.

Then again, it's totally possible domestic dogs indeed came to the Americas with the first people and we just don't have the evidence yet. When scientists are looking for proof that dogs were domesticated, burials are all they really have to go on. If they find a dog skeleton buried like a human or at least near a human settlement, then the scientists can guess the dog was domesticated. But maybe ancient peoples just didn't go through the trouble of burying their animals in ways that would look familiar when they were dug up tens of thousands of years later. Or maybe we just haven't found them yet.

Either way, dogs have been teaming us with humans (and Neanderthals) for a very long time.

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Dogs have been wandering America longer than we knew
Ancient skeletons found in Illinois are more than 10,000 years old.