Genetic Analysis of Extinct, Culturally Significant Wooly Dog

Full-body forensic reconstruction of a woolly dog based on a 160-year-old pelt in the Smithsonian’s collection, as well as archaeological remains. (Credit: Karen Carr).

Researchers from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History led a new analysis that sheds light on the ancestry and genetics of woolly dogs, a now extinct breed of dog that was a fixture of indigenous Coast Salish communities in the Pacific Northwest for millennia. Anthropologist Logan Kistler, PhD, and evolutionary molecular biologist Audrey Lin, PhD, analyzed genetic clues preserved in the pelt of “Mutton,” the only known woolly dog fleece in the world, to pinpoint the genes responsible for their highly sought-after woolly fur. The study’s findings, published December 14, 2023 as open-access in Science, include interviews contributed by several Coast Salish co-authors, including Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and Master Weavers, who provided crucial context about the role woolly dogs played in Coast Salish society. “Coast Salish traditional perspective was the entire context for understanding the study’s findings,” said Dr. Kistler, the museum’s Curator of Archaeobotany and Archaeogenomics.

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