Native American dog remains revealed they were eaten by early settlers

It occurred during a time of great hunger in Jamestown.
Nergis Firtina
Snowy trees
Snowy trees


Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement, was hope for colonists in the New World. Although they thought the New World was the land of milk and honey, the situation was contrary. Furthermore, a study led by the University of Iowa seems to prove that.

As USA Today reported, researchers stated that wolf or coyote-sized native dogs were eaten by new settlers in the early 17th century due to desperation during the bitter winters. It is the first time evidence of Indigenous dogs existing in Jamestown in the 17th century has been discovered.

The findings were reported at AABA Annual Meeting on March 24, 2022. The bones are part of an artifact collection owned by Jamestown Rediscovery, a historic preservation organization affiliated with Preservation Virginia.

"They have lineages reaching back to some of the earliest introduction of dogs to North America, so around ... 13,000 years ago," said Ariane Thomas, a Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa.

Native American dog remains revealed they were eaten by early settlers
Jamestown, Virginia.

The crew could only collect DNA from two dogs at the beginning of the study. Since then, according to Thomas, the team has added a third dog to its experiment whose DNA closely resembles artifacts found at the Hatch site, a significant Native American archaeological site.

Are they different from European dogs?

The research team is curious to know when Indigenous dog lineages were supplanted by European ones. The results are the starting point for figuring this out.

According to Thomas, she sought to know whether Indigenous dog lineages were killed or crossed with European dogs in order to address issues regarding how Indigenous dog lineages were replaced by European ones. Because the tooth roots in the top region of the dog's jaw are ideal for DNA collecting, Thomas' team focused on this area, and they were able to collect samples from three specimens.

Colonists ate them

In some of the digs, according to Michael Lavin, director of collections at Jamestown Rediscovery, artifacts connected to "the hunger time," or the winter of 1609 to 1610, were discovered.

"They resorted to eating some of the taboo foods, so their horses, dogs, cats, rats, and even humans. After (humans) died, they resorted to survival cannibalism. This dog story is just further evidence of that horrible winter," Lavin told USA Today.

Study abstract:

Multiple studies have demonstrated that the colonization of the Americas led to the replacement of nearly all indigenous dog lineages with European ones sometime between 1492 and the present day. However, the timing and rate of this replacement are unknown, and little attention has been given to this topic of research. To clarify the demographic change of dog populations in the Americas, we sequenced relatively high coverage ancient mitochondrial DNA from dogs at Jamestown Colony, Virginia, 1609-1619. Our analysis shows that the Jamestown dogs have maternal lineages most closely associated with the A1b haplotype, which has been previously reported in ancient dogs indigenous to the Americas. Furthermore, these maternal lineages cluster with dogs that derived from the earliest movement of dogs to the Americas and are not associated with the later introduction of Arctic dogs by humans. The recovery of dog lineages indigenous to North America from a European colonial site suggests that indigenous dogs were not isolated from colonial contexts. Our results complicate current hypotheses about the degree of human management of Indigenous and European dogs and indicate that the replacement of Indigenous dog lineages occurred later in time.