12000-year-old fossil jaw found in Nacaome, northeast Costa Rica could be of the oldest domesticated dogs that lived in Central America says a study by Latin American scientists.
The dogs, and their masters, potentially lived alongside giant animals, researchers say. The bone was found in 1978 from the Late Pleistocene.
Excavations began in the 1990s and produced the remains of a giant horse, Equus sp, a glyptodon (a large armadillo), a mastodon (an ancestor of the modern elephant) and a piece of jaw from what was originally thought to be a coyote skull.
“We thought it was very strange to have a coyote in the Pleistocene, that is to say 12,000 years ago,” said Costa Rican researcher Guillermo Vargas.
When we started looking at the bone fragments, we started to see characteristics that could have been from a dog.So we kept looking, we scanned it… and it showed that it was a dog living with humans 12,000 years ago in Costa Rica.”
The presence of dogs is a sign that humans were also living in a place. The coyote is a relative of the domestic dog, although with a different jaw and more pointed teeth. “The dog eats the leftovers from human food. Its teeth are not so determinant in its survival,” said Vargas.
The presence of humans during the Pleistocene has been attested in Mexico, Chile and Patagonia, but never in Central America, until now.
Oxford University has offered to perform DNA and carbon dating tests on the sample to discover more genetic information about the animal and its age.
The fossil is currently held at Costa Rica’s national museum but the sample cannot be re-identified as a dog without validation by a specialist magazine.