Ancient Malamutes

This drawing was created by Simon Paneak from Anaktuvuk Pass Alaska 1968. It shows how the mastodon arrived to their Arctic homeland. This is fascinating because the mastodon has been extinct for 10,000 years!

Let’s step back in time to about 15,000 years ago when Paleoindians migrated from Asia and Siberia and across the ancient subcontinent of Beringia that is now the floor Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering Seas.

Eventually they found themselves at a desolate windswept and uninhabited region, which is now Alaska.

Beringia existed during the glacial episodes of the Pleistocene when world-wide sea level was as much as 300 feet lower than today. Beringia included most of northeastern Siberia, Alaska as far south as the Alaska Peninsula, and the land bridge that connected them.

This was a vast, mostly unglaciated land mass of nearly two million square miles with an extreme continental climate.

The Paleoindians probably hunted mostly bison and caribou, but there were large Ice Age mammals as well: mammoth, horse, muskox and large cat similar to the African lion.

During that time the environment was similar as of today with brutally cold and windy winters and hot arid summers. There were plenty of lush grasses for bison and caribou to graze on that flourished among the low lying hills and wide valleys.

Alaska’s arctic landscape hasn’t changed much since the Pleistocene, except there are more tussocks on the tundra yet it still remains mostly a treeless with many different types of willow.

The Paleoindians probably wore caribou fur clothing since it’s one of the warmest furs to wear and there was an ample supply of it. Also, they used spears, bows and arrows with tips crafted of chert, that is common in the area.

They were nomadic people who hunted caribou and bison spring through fall and evidently lived in Brooks Range during winter where the wind isn’t as brutally harsh. But the Paleoindians were accompanied with help in their endeavors to survive. They had dogs.

Their dogs lessened their burdens by packing meat and supplies for them and there isn’t any evidence suggesting the dogsled had been invented yet.

It’s also thought that dogs were used to protect their children from lions while the adults were hunting. This might explain why malamutes are so friendly and personable around children as well as adults. Because of the heavy burdens the dogs were required to pack, most likely they were large framed with wide hips and chests, thick bones, heavily furred to endure cold temperatures and they were efficient eaters.

As the climate and vegetational regime began to change at the end of Pleistocene, and the large Ice Age mammals such as bison disappeared, the Paleoindians vanished from arctic Alaska’s archeological record.

From roughly 9700 until 7500 years BP there is no solid evidence for human occupation in arctic Alaska (Kuntz et al 2000,) However there is evidence of Paleo-Arctic tradition, that must be as ancient as the Paleoindian tradition is found nearby on the south side to the continental divide

Now this next point is important and it might provide an explanation why there are Inuit dog markers in our malamutes DNA.

Roughly 5,000 years BP the Eskimo appeared in Alaska’s arctic. Eventually they dominated and were more numerous than any other groups that had previously inhabited the area.

Since Alaskan malamutes have both Asian and Inuit dog DNA markers it’s quite possible the Inuit dogs mixed with the Asian type which probably were living inland with the Nunamiut and other ancient tribes.

But what is the most fascinating point and ties everything together is that some Alaskan malamute lines have markers from Tibetan wolves.

This point strongly suggests that originally malamutes
migrated across the land bridge most likely with the first paleoindians.

After 1900 whalers and explorers brought many other dog-breed types onto the scene. It’s important to note; Alaskan malamutes do not have European dog-breed DNA. So, the present day malamute is as close as we can get to the ancient malamute.

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