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Missing link? Puppy frozen for 18,000 years could be dog, wolf or both

An ancient canine known as Dogor is shown after it was recovered from Siberia in 2018.
An ancient canine known as Dogor is shown after it was recovered from Siberia in 2018. Sergey Fedorov/Centre for Palaeogenetics

Meet Dogor. He’s 18,000 years old, he’s still just a puppy and he’s an absolute mystery to the scientists who found him frozen in the Siberian permafrost.

Sure, Dogor looks like a doggo dog, but is he?

Scientists don’t know if the canine is an ancient ancestor of wolves or dogs, so they’ve simply named him Dogor, which means “friend” in the local language of Yakutsk. The specimen was recovered in 2018 near Belaya Gora, a site in eastern Siberia where many other Ice Age-era mammoth specimens have been found. The well-preserved canine is still in Russia, although one of its ribs was sent away to Sweden for testing.

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Dogor’s rib is currently being examined at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm, where carbon-dating revealed that he’s approximately 18,000 years old. However, a battery of genetic tests has failed to determine whether the previously undiscovered species is a dog or a wolf.

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A scientist holds an 18,000-year-old puppy recovered from the Siberian permafrost.
A scientist holds an 18,000-year-old puppy recovered from the Siberian permafrost. Centre for Palaeogenetics/Twitter

“It’s normally relatively easy to tell the difference between the two,” researcher David Stanton told CNN. He says his team at the centre has plenty of data on both species, so it shouldn’t be hard to place Dogor in one category or the other.

“The fact that we can’t might suggest that it’s from a population that was ancestral to both — to dogs and wolves,” he said.

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Researchers say the canine was about two months old when it died and became preserved in the ice. The little guy did not appear to be in distress at the time of death, researchers told the Siberian Times.

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Close inspection shows the male puppy still has its arrow-like teeth, whiskers, eyelashes and soft nose intact after 18 millennia on ice.

A scientist shows off the teeth on a canine recovered from the permafrost in Siberia.
A scientist shows off the teeth on a canine recovered from the permafrost in Siberia. Centre for Palaeogenetics/Twitter

“It’s basically been frozen for the past 18,000 years so it’s kept in fantastic shape,” Stanton told Australia’s ABC News.

He added that more study is needed, but the specimen could shed light on how dogs became humanity’s best friend.

“We still don’t know exactly where or when dogs were domesticated, and we don’t even know which lineage of wolf dogs were domesticated from,” he said. “If it does end up being an early dog, then it will be very informative.”

One study published in 2017 suggests that dogs were domesticated between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.

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Stanton added that the specimen also comes from a “very informative” time in wolf evolution.

“We want to do a lot more future work on this,” Stanton said.