Oldest Known Dog Fossil in the Americas Found in Costa Rica

Dog lovers generally refuse to accept that there was ever a time when dogs were NOT a human’s best friend. Scientists put the date of the first domestication of the distinct canine species (Canis familiaris) at about 15,000 years ago. That’s close to the time a mass migration of humans crossed the Beringia land bridge and it’s assumed dogs came with them and followed them all the way to South America. The oldest confirmed dog bone in North America was found in Alaska and dates back 10,150 years. That record has just been broken by a jawbone found in Costa Rica, which is dated to 12,000 years ago. That means Central America was inhabited with dogs earlier than first thought. What do you think about that, cat lovers?

Whose idea was it to stay in Alaska?

“We thought it was very strange to have a coyote in the Pleistocene, that is to say 12,000 years ago.”

Agence France-Presse (AFP) broke the story about Costa Rican researcher Guillermo Vargas, who thought it was strange that bones discovered during a 1990s dig in Nacaome, Guanacaste, were classified as coyote and forgotten. Why? Coyotes didn’t arrive in Costa Rica until the 20th century! For further proof, Vargas compared the specimen – a jawbone with teeth (see it here) – to a similar one from a coyote and the shape differences stood out immediately … not to mention the fact that the coyote had pointier teeth. Vargas then points out the obvious connection that other researchers seemed to have missed:

“The dog eats the leftovers from human food. Its teeth are not so determinant in its survival. It hunts large prey with its human companions. This sample reflects that difference.”

Vargas dates the jawbone to 12,000 years ago because it was found in the same area where archeologists in the 1990s found remains of a giant horse, a glyptodon (large armadillo), a mastodon (an ancestor of the modern elephant) that were confirmed inhabitants of the Pleistocene period. To prove the dog jaw is from the same period, Oxford University has offered to perform DNA and carbon dating tests on it. if confirmed, Costa Rica’s national museum still need validation by a specialist magazine before it can change the nameplate on the display from ‘Coyote’ to ‘Dog’.

Costa Rica here I come!

Vargas tells AFP that confirming dogs lived in Central America 12,000 year ago will help change the way the people of the time are looked at.

“It would show us that there were societies that could keep dogs, that had food surpluses, that had dogs out of desire, and that these weren’t warring dogs that could cause damage.”

That will go a long way towards giving us a native history of Central America rather than one written by the invading Europeans.

Thanks, man’s best friend!

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