Ancient Inuit Brought Sled Dogs from Siberia to Help Them Thrive in the Arctic
Wed, April 21, 2021

Ancient Inuit Brought Sled Dogs from Siberia to Help Them Thrive in the Arctic

Most people would consider the cold and frozen Arctic tundra as an unlivable place. But one tribe has not only survived its harsh environments in the past, but even thrived in it. These people are the ancient Inuit / Photo by: Ansgar Walk via Wikimedia Commons

 

Most people would consider the cold and frozen Arctic tundra as an unlivable place. But one tribe has not only survived its harsh environments in the past, but even thrived in it. These people are the ancient Inuit, although some southern native tribes in America refer to them as Eskimos (eaters of raw flesh). They are now a group of indigenous people that inhabit the Arctic regions of Greenland, Alaska, and Canada. Their secret to thriving in the Arctic? Sled dogs.

Role of Sled Dogs in the North American Arctic Community

A new study conducted by a team of anthropologists and geneticists from various universities and collaborating institutions revealed that ancient Inuit brought sled dogs from Siberia to help them thrive in the North American Arctic. Their study was published in the journal The Royal Society.

Authors Carly Ameen from the University of Exeter’s Department of Archaeology and colleagues wrote that domestic dogs have been an important part of the life of the tribe in the North American Arctic for many years. 

Inuit ancestors viewed Qimmiit, which means “dogs” in the Inuktitut language, as animals that are well-suited to long-distance transportation or hauling of people and goods across the Arctic. The unique sled dogs also helped the tribe conquer the difficult terrain of the arctic some 2,000 years ago. 

The diet of Inuits was based mostly on marine mammals they hunt from their boats. Then, they used the dogs to haul the dead body of the animals back on their homes with the help of sleds. Aside from carrying their food, dogs have also helped the tribe move rapidly from summer to winter camps.

Co-author Tatiana R. Feuerborn from The Palaeogenomics and Bio-archaeology Research Network in Oxford explained that the dogs adapted to the lifestyle of the ancient Inuits and were able to endure the hardships in such a way that most of today’s dogs are not born to do. While the appearance of the ancient sled dogs changed over time, they are considered as the direct ancestors of the modern Arctic sled dogs. They also played an important role in the Arctic communities.

Studying the DNA of Dogs’ Ancient Skeletal Remains

The researchers in veterinary genetics and anthropology from the University of California Davis have worked for nearly a decade to analyze the DNA from 921 dogs and wolves who lived during the last 4,500 years to determine whether they have different DNA than those who lived in the Arctic, including huskies and malamutes. 

Authors have likewise used the materials and bones from museums in Canada, Greenland, and Denmark and the clothing material made from the skin of dogs. They compared these samples with the DNA of the ancient remains and found unique teeth and skull shapes.

A new study conducted by a team of anthropologists and geneticists from various universities and collaborating institutions revealed that ancient Inuit brought sled dogs from Siberia to help them thrive in the North American Arctic / Photo by: Malfuros via Wikimedia Commons

 

Canine Replacement Event

According to Benjamin N. Sacks from UC Davis’ Department of Population Health and Reproduction, the genetic profiles of the ancient dogs that lived in the American Arctic 2,000 years ago were almost the same as the older dogs found in Siberia. This provided them with a definitive and clear picture of the “canine replacement event.”

Researchers said that the Arctic sled dogs that still exist today are some of the remaining descendants of pre-European dog lineages in the Americas. 

Inuit Culture in the 21st Century

Tour guide and independent traveler Laura Pattara, who had various animal encounters in the wilderness, shared that Inuit culture is still preserved today in the 21st century, although they are striving to find a healthy balance between their traditions and embracing a new way of life. This most especially applies to Inuits living in Alaska and Canada. Pattara is not involved in the UC Davis study.

Tour guide and independent traveler Laura Pattara, who had various animal encounters in the wilderness, shared that Inuit culture is still preserved today in the 21st century / Photo by: Arian Zwegers via Flickr

 

Inuit Statistical Profile

Inuit people originally migrated from Siberia to Alaska through North America based on histories. Then, they arrived in Greenland in the 13th century. They were known to be sophisticated navigators, utilizing only stars to guide their way. They also maintained a hunting culture using sealskin and small boats, which were maneuverable and quick. 

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national representational organization for the 65,000 Inuit in Canada, shared that Inuit Nunangat is the current homeland of Inuit people in Canada and 52% of them live in crowded homes. Furthermore, 34% of Inuit aged 25 to 64 in Inuit Nunangat have already earned a high school diploma but 70% of the Inuit households remain food insecure.

Their projected life expectancy in their Canadian homeland is 72.4 years and the infant mortality rate is 12.3 per 1,000 Inuit infants. Sixty-three percent of Inuit adults smoke daily as well.

The total Inuit population in Canada is 65,030. The age distribution of their population is as follows: 0-4 years old (7,380 or 11% of the population), 5-9 (7,595 or 12%), 10-14 (6,520 or 10%), 15-24 (11,990 or 18%), 25-34 (9,9910 or 15%), 35-44 (7,475 or 11%), 45-64 (11,090 or 17%), and 65 and over (3,060 or 5%).