Settlers in Jamestown, one of the first English colonies in North America, likely killed and ate local dogs, new research shows.
Most of the dog bones excavated in jamestown they have cut marks on them, suggesting “they may have been eaten,” study co-author Ariane Thomas, a doctoral student in biological anthropology at the University of Iowa, told Live Science in an email. .
But given the famine and evidence of human cannibalism in Jamestown, it’s not surprising that people ate dogs, Thomas said.
These dogs were related, at least in part, to the ones that first roamed the continent before European settlers arrived.
Related: What happened to the ‘missing’ settlers in Roanoke?
Today, by contrast, most dog breeds in North America are of European descent. The researchers presented their findings March 24 at the Annual meeting of the American Association of Biological Anthropologists (opens in a new tab)although the research has not yet undergone peer review.
Founded by the English in Virginia in 1607, Jamestown was the first English colony in the United States that was not abandoned. The English previously tried to settle Roanoke Island, North Carolina, around 1587, but that attempt ended in disaster with the disappearance of the settlers.
Jamestown almost ended in disaster as well, with food shortages wiping out many of the settlers. Some starving people became so desperate that they resorted to human cannibalism. However, the colony persevered and eventually grew.
To learn more about the Jamestown pups, the team took DNA samples from the remains of six dogs excavated at Jamestown in the last 30 years. Only two of them “had enough sequence fragments to assemble a nearly complete mitochondrial genome,” or DNA that is passed from mother to offspring through mitochondria in cells, Thomas said. Testing revealed that the dogs’ maternal lineage came from the A1b haplotype, which is associated with indigenous North American dogs. The team has not yet conducted tests to determine the paternal lineage of those dogs.
The findings suggest that the people of Jamestown may have obtained some of the mainland’s original dogs through trade or other interactions with Native American groups.
“Based on archaeological research and historical documents, Jamestown was a place of interaction between European settlers and indigenous communities. [living in the region]Thomas said.
“It is likely that these dogs accompanied the indigenous people as they visited, or perhaps lived, in Jamestown,” Thomas said.
However, these dogs were probably not “pets” that belonged to just one person. “The dogs were possibly the equivalent of today’s stray dogs,” she noted.
Several experts told WordsSideKick.com that the findings are consistent with other historical evidence from the time.
“This study confirms the historical evidence from primary sources suggesting that the English settlers and the Powhatans [a Native American group that lived in the area] interacted with each other in Jamestown,” Rachel Herrmann, senior lecturer in modern American history at Cardiff University in the UK, told LiveScience in an email.
“I am not surprised by these findings. [they seem] based on previous genetic studies of living and ancient American dogs,” Peter Savolainen, a professor and head of the department of gene technology at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, told Live Science.
The research is “pretty interesting,” said Eric Guiry, a professor of biomolecular archeology at the University of Leicester in the UK.
But Guiry told WordsSideKick.com that the findings reported in the posters are usually quite preliminary. The researchers are currently preparing the work for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Originally published on Live Science.