Dogs migrate throughout East and Southeast Asia

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Today, local dogs in East Asia, in China, Tibet, Korea, Thailand, Cambodia and Japan, have a greater genetic diversity than dogs found in West Asia or in Europe, Africa or North America. This is what you’d expect if dogs originated in East Asia. Just as the greatest genetic diversity in humans exists in the cradle of our evolution, Africa, the greatest genetic diversity in dogs exists in the regions where they evolved. 

DNA evidence shows that modern Korean dogs such as the Jindo and Sapsaree arrived in Korea from the northern regions of East Asia. These dogs genetically resemble Siberian dogs. Other genetic evidence shows that the indigenous dogs of Japan, inhabitants of that country for at least 8,500 years, have their origins in Korea. Today’s Akitas and Shibas trace their ancestry, via Korea, back to Siberia. On the vast sub-continent of India and east through the Malay peninsula dogs have coexisted with people since paleolithic times. Their descendants are the dingo-sized ‘pariah’ dogs, common everywhere, although there are regional varieties such as the smaller basenji-like Jonangi dog on the east coast of India. From the Malay peninsula dogs either travelled on their own (when sea levels were lower) or were actively transported throughout the nearby islands of southeast Asia, on to Australia and eventually throughout Polynesia. On Bali alone there are now around 800,000 feral dogs. MtDNA studies of these dogs show that they are genetically most closely related to the Australian dingo and the Chinese Chow Chow and that their ancestors existed on Bali before that island became geographically isolated from southeast Asia around 12,000 years ago. Even today these dogs remain genetically distinct from European dogs.

The dingo’s history has been rewritten

Recent MtDNA studies have lead to a revision of the history of how the dingo arrived in Australia. This newest evidence shows that the Australian dingo originated 5,000 years ago from domesticated dogs in East Asia. What fascinates me is that all dingoes from throughout all the states of Australia have almost identical mtDNA (there is only one slight variation). That makes it safe to say that they all descend from a very small population. The dingo arrived in Australia perhaps as a single family of dogs introduced on a single occasion as people moved in the ‘Austronesian expansion’ throughout the islands of Southeast Asia. It’s not inconceivable that dingos all descend from one arrival in Australia of a single pregnant female.

Dogs arrived much later in Polynesia??The Polynesian people, the greatest seafarers in history, originated in the Indo-Pacific region. Western Polynesia was settled by these people starting 3,000 years ago but it was much later that Polynesians successfully colonised Eastern Polynesia, reaching Hawaii only a thousand years ago. When Captain Cook visited Hawaii in the late 1700s he described the local dogs as short with crooked legs, long backs and upright ears. Old Hawaiian petroglyths show people with dogs much as Cook described both of them. The Polynesians brought their dogs to Hawaii as food, but also for trade, as sacrifices and as pets. Feeding them poi – cooked taro root – fattened them up and made them tastier to eat but according to island tradition dogs were also childrens’ companions. Mothers nursed pups with their children and when a pet dog died, the child wore one of its teeth to ward off evil. Polynesians arrived with their dogs on Easter Island 200 years later but not in New Zealand until only 700 years ago. New Zealand was so far away by sea that dogs were the only ‘commensals’, fellow travellers, to survive the journey.

I say that Polynesians are the greatest ever seafarers because there is new DNA evidence, from a single chicken bone excavated in South America, that Polynesians travelled as far as South America. The bone confirms what Thor Heyerdal postulated, Polynesian sailors crossed the entire length of the Pacific Ocean and reached South America before European explorers and adventurers did. Wherever the Polynesians travelled they took their food with them, not just chickens but pigs, rats and dogs. (We’ll get to edible dogs in the next chapter.) It’s not impossible that dogs as well as chickens survived the sea voyages to South America. The oldest evidence of dogs in Polynesia is a dingo-like skeleton excavated on Pukapuka Island in the Cook Islands. MtDNA studies of indigenous dogs on remote islands of Polynesia show two distinct lines which means there were at least two waves of migration that spread dogs through these islands.

 

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