Would archaeologists put dog breeds in the same species?

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Offline thedoc

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Thomas Burndrett  asked the Naked Scientists:
   Hi Dr. Chris,

I have a hypothetical scenario, say in one million years Archeologists are at a dig site and come across the bones/fossils of a great Dane and a mini poodle. In this scenario dogs have been extinct for, say two million years, further, these archeologist have no record of what a dog was or any information about different breeds. Also there is no ability to extract any dna from either of the samples.

My question then, is wouldn't they attribute the wildly different fossils of the two dogs to desperate species? How would they ascertain that they are different breeds?

Great show!


What do you think?
« Last Edit: 08/10/2012 11:30:02 by _system »


Offline CliffordK

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Re: Would archaeologists put dog breeds in the same species?
« Reply #1 on: 30/10/2012 01:54:26 »
If chromosomes and DNA were available, one would be able to see the similarities between different canines via chromosome and DNA analysis.  Even if DNA is not available, archaeologists are discovering that some proteins are able to be recovered from demineralized bone and fossils, although I'm not sure how good such recovered proteins would be for inter-species and intra-species comparisons.  Presumably the demineralized proteins can either now be sequenced, or will be able to be sequenced in the not too distant future. 

There may be some DNA fragments that can also be recovered from osteoblasts and osteoclasts from ancient demineralized bone and fossils.  It may be difficult to get information such as chromosome counts, but some of the DNA may still be able to be sequenced and reassembled.

However, looking at just bones, the Chihuahua and St. Bernard dogs should have a remarkably similar skeletal structure, so the Chihuahuas and St. Bernards at least would be classified as being similar.  Presumably some human dug pet graves will also survive into the distant future which will demonstrate the close association between canines and humans.

It may be impossible for archaeologists to distinguish between dogs (canis lupus familiaris), wolves (canis lupus), and coyotes (canis latrans) other than the association with humans, and the use of pet graves.  Likewise, foxes (vulpini) may also appear similar to the other dogs and could potentially be confused with them, except, of course, the lack of common pet graves, although being a couple of branches back in the genetic tree the foxes may have some distinct morphological features.