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The image of big, furry Huskies, Malamutes, and other northern dog breeds pulling sleds across the Arctic is an iconic one. Dogs have accompanied humans on their migrations across the globe for thousands of years, and the bond between people and their working sled dogs is proving to be a very ancient one. Archaeological discoveries of ancient dog bones in the Arctic reveal that dogs have been by our side in the frozen north for a very long time!
A recent article on the National Geographic website explains that some canine bones unearthed in Siberia go back 8,000 years. These dogs were formally buried, sometimes with artifacts and alongside human bones. Unfortunately at another ancient site, also in Siberia, evidence shows that 2,000 years ago, some dogs there were also killed and eaten. The first pictorial representation of a working sled dog was also found at this same site.
Since the remains of harnesses would have long deteriorated after thousands of years, scientists are taking a close look at the structure of the ancient dog bones to confirm that they belonged to dogs that long-ago pulled heavy sleds. The old bones share the same “signature” as those of modern sled dogs—shorter and more robust than the average domestic dog—a sure sign that these dogs pulled weight.
Experts theorize that the use of sled dogs began organically, long before any archeological evidence, when people began attaching small loads of supplies to individual dogs when on long journeys they undertook by foot. Only later did they attach full-sized sleds with heavy loads to teams of dogs raised especially for this purpose.
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