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
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.