Recovering the 'wool' dog crania in 2018. Photo: Eric Guiry

Ancient ‘woolly dog’ ate mostly fish, new University of Victoria study finds

Study gives researchers better understanding of human-dog relationships on Tsehaht First Nation

New research coming out of the University of Victoria discovered an ancient breed of “woolly dog” off the West Coast of Vancouver Island mostly ate marine fish.

the dog was found on Keith Island, among the Broken Group Islands, that hold thousands of years of history for the Tseshaht First Nation, and was among the last the Tseshaht inhabited, right up to the 1950s.

For the past few summers, the Tseshaht Nation has collaborated with UVic archaeologist Iain McKechnie; Denis St. Claire, co-director of the project and an ethnohistorian and archaeologist; Parks Canada; the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre; and the Hakai Institute to bring students into the field.

Tseshaht community members played a significant role in the research by sharing culture and knowledge with students.

READ ALSO: Wooldog among mysteries uncovered with powerful UVic microscope

READ ALSO: Vancouver Island history unveiled in Broken Islands dig

One outcome was the isotopic analysis of domestic dog remains dating back 3,000 years, which includes the woolly dog.

A newly published paper provides the first specific estimate of ancient dog diets on B.C.’s coast. Using zooarchaeological data, along with a stable isotope modeling approach that uses statistical estimates to distinguish from potential food sources, it was found that Tseshaht dogs were eating and possibly being fed significant amounts of marine fish, specifically anchovy, herring and salmon.

Marine fish amounted to approximately half of the food these ancient dogs consumed throughout their lives.

“Obviously, the role that humans took was substantial since dogs were not catching these fast-moving fish on their own,” said UVic student and lead author of the research Dylan Hillis.

The new information allows researchers to have a better understanding of human-dog relationships, animal husbandry practices and the cultural and economic significance these dogs had in Tseshaht territory.

St. Claire explains the value of this study is how the Tseshaht and other First Nations relied on the woolly dog for its thick hair, which was used for textiles such as blankets and regalia. The wool was considered a status symbol and was worn by high ranking individuals.

The importance of the woolly dog started to lessen with the arrival of a cheaper, more plentifiul supply of sheep’s wool and other imported textiles.

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