DNA Analysis Reveals Mysterious Absence of Indonesian Dogs in Madagascar

Their migration spanned half the globe and their culture was spread across the Pacific and Indian Oceans; but in Madagascar, the ancient Indonesians left behind a mystery. What happened to their dogs? In his latest research on the origins of dogs around the world, Dr. Peter Savolainen, a canine genealogy authority at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology, set out to examine the genetic connection between dogs in Madagascar and the pets of ancient settlers from Indonesia. But to his team's surprise, no trace of Indonesian ancestry could be found among the island nation's dogs. Instead, Madagascan dogs all appear to trace their heritage entirely from Africa. Dr. Savolainen says that the findings offer little clue as to what happened to the Indonesian dogs that most likely sailed to Madagascar 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. "It's a mystery," Dr. Savolainen says of the study, which sampled DNA of 145 dogs from Madagascar and 184 from the African mainland. "We were surprised when we saw the results. We expected 100 percent or 50 percent ancestry from Indonesia—but it was zero percent." In ancient times, the expeditions of Indonesians typically included domestic animals, such as pigs, chickens, and of course, man's best friend. Along with their Austronesian culture and DNA, the Indonesians introduced their dogs' genes into populations wherever they settled. This canine DNA can still be found in Hawaii, Southeast Asia, the Cook Islands, and New Zealand, among other places. "Dogs, together with pigs and chicken, were important domestic animals in the Austronesian culture," Dr. Savolainen says.
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