It’s a bird, it’s a plane … or is it a puppy or a wolf? That is the question scientists are asking after finding an 18,000-year-old frozen puppy. The fossil was found near Yakutsk, in eastern Siberia, in the permafrost. Permafrost is a thick sub-surface layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year.
The specimen is remarkably intact, with his fur and teeth clearly visible. Russian scientists discovered the pup and identified it as male by using genomic analysis. The frozen enigma has been named “Dogor,” which is a Yakutian world for “friend.”
What is so baffling about this discovery is the fact that the puppy is from “a very interesting time in terms of wolf and dog evolution.” David Stanton, a researcher at the Centre for Palaeogenetics, said, “We don’t know exactly when dogs were domesticated, but it may have been from about that time. We are interested in whether it is in fact a dog or a wolf, or perhaps it’s something halfway between the two.”
Dogor is a mystery to scientists because he isn’t from a time period when we think our ancestors played “fetch” with a pet dog. In fact, it is still uncertain how dogs became what they are today. Modern dogs are thought to have been domesticated from wolves, but when this event actually happened is still unknown.
According to Stanton, it is usually easy to tell the difference between dogs and wolves. “We have a lot of data from it already, and with that amount of data, you’d expect to tell if it was one or the other. The fact that we can’t [in the case of Dogor] might suggest that it’s from a population that was ancestral to both – to dogs and wolves,” he said.
Dogor raises more questions than answers regarding the time of our ancestors. Did ancient humans have a dog as man’s best friend, or a wolf to hunt? Exactly what role did the canines play in society at that time? Was Dogor a mix-breed of wolf and dog, able to protect and play, offering ancient man protection and a distraction from the dangers of daily life? Perhaps we will find out as scientists unravel the mystery.