UI Researchers Discover Native Dog Lineages in Jamestown


Through DNA sequencing, archaeologists have confirmed that the remains belong to ancient North American dogs rather than European descendants.


A team of UI archaeologists have extracted DNA from dog remains found at an ancient settlement in Jamestown, Virginia that have revealed links to an aboriginal dog line.

Jamestown is an historic site in East Virginia. Historic Jamestown is home to the ruins of the first permanent English settlement in North America, established on May 14, 1607.

Matthew Hillassociate professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa, said researchers first traveled to Jamestown to find European dog DNA.

” [European colonists] brought greyhounds, they brought mastiffs and most likely bloodhounds. They are clear European races,” he said. “Analysis revealed that they were entirely Native American dogs.”

This is the first time that evidence Native dogs were never discovered to reside in Jamestown in the 17th century.

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The Jamestown search has been going on for about 4-5 years, but has been particularly active over the past year and a half. The UI collaborated with Rediscovering Jamestown for the dog remains as well as the University of Illinois to help sequence the DNA.

Ariane ThomasPhD student at UI who used the research for her thesis, said the university had worked on much of the project.

“We did all of the footage analysis, the footage construction, and then the work analysis and writing,” she said.

Thomas describes the UI’s pattern for canine lineage research in two parts.

“Between the arrival of the first Europeans in North America and today, we have seen a significant loss of native North and South American dogs,” she said. “We really wanted to know when it would happen, or how it would happen.”

Another part of the research, Thomas explained, is designed to explore the transition from early European dogs to today.

“If there’s a lineage that exists today that we can actually identify in the past, that’s something we’re interested in,” she said.

Thomas said she considers the research necessary because it unveiled a history of European colonization that is not explicitly discussed.

“We don’t really think of dogs when we think of European colonization, so it’s a bit more about how people interacted with their dogs,” she said. “Furthermore, it highlights the connection between native Virginians and English settlers.”

The researchers are eager to complete the next steps of this project, she said.

“We would like to sequence more Jamestown dogs if possible, and there are a few where we think they may have European bloodlines based on morphology,” Thomas said.

Going forward, the researchers said they wanted to look at autosomal DNA, another form of DNA in dog bones that is more difficult to obtain in ancient DNA, which would tell them their full ancestry.

Additionally, they said they also hoped to look at dogs from later European settlement sites such as Williamsburg, several plantations in Virginia, and sites in the Northeast to see how those dogs would compare.

Hill said an important part of these findings is the steady advancement of archaeological remains.

“These bones were excavated years and years ago,” he said. “Even though they themselves are very old, the collections still have opportunities with new techniques or new questions to advance this type of science.”