UBC researchers discover what sled dogs ate 300 years ago

Researchers say the droppings were so well preserved that they smelled bad when broken

For the first time ever, proteins from ancient frozen canine feces have been extracted to learn more about how Arctic sled dogs and humans interacted at least 300 years ago.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have analyzed what are known as “paleofeces” using paleoproteomics, a technique that has allowed researchers to find out which tissues proteins came from and therefore which parts of animals were consumed. The paleofeces themselves were buried in arctic permafrost at the Nunalleq Archaeological Site near Quinhagak, Alaska.

Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge, a PhD student at York University, was the lead researcher behind the project. Runge explained why the diet of sled dogs in the 17th century is an important area of ​​study in the first place.

“The lives of dogs and their interactions with humans have only recently become a topic of interest for archaeologists,” says Runge. “This study of their eating habits says more about their relationship with humans.”

Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge, the lead author of the study, pictured taking samples in the lab. By Katharina Dulias

Runge explains that the dogs may have been fed differently or less frequently in the summer, or left to fend for themselves.

“Working sled dogs are a particularly expensive resource, requiring up to 3.2 kg of fish or meat per day and the supply of dogs would therefore have played an important role in the food supply strategies of the culture. Arctic past,” Runge said.

Dr. Camilla Speller, an anthropologist at UBC and lead author of the international study, added that the breakthrough could help scientists better understand the evolution of gastrointestinal health in dogs.

“Recovered proteins reveal that the sled dogs consumed muscle, bone, intestine and eggs from a range of salmon species, including Chinook, Sockeye, Coho and Chum,” Speller said. .

paleofeces3Researchers from the University of British Columbia have analyzed frozen feces buried in arctic permafrost at the Nunalleq archaeological site near Quinhagak, Alaska. By Richard Knecht

The researchers say that the paleofeces were so well preserved that an odor was present when the feces were broken in half.

The study found that the presence of salmon eggs in the paleofeces also sheds light on the time of year when the paleofeces were deposited and indicates summer since the salmon spawn in the fall.

Bette C. Alvarado