This is a paper which I wrote for my ANTH 297H: Parasites and Human Evolution class. I had originally wanted to write about the Norse possibly making it to Greenland/ North America and possibly bringing bubonic plague with them, but the research just wasn’t there yet. As a result, I wrote about dingoes instead. I gave a summary of current and past dingo-human interactions and how their appearance in Australia roughly 3500 years ago is a mystery. Where did they come from? Recent genetic analysis of Dingo MtDNA holds the key.
Sarah Reese ANTH 297H: Parasites and Human Evolution: Australian Dingo
The Dingo, famous as the wild dog of Australia, can also be found in areas of Southeast Asia. These feral dogs are gold to reddish in color, depending on their local habitat. They, “may live alone (especially young males) or in packs of up to ten animals. They roam great distances and communicate with wolf-like howls” (“National Geographic: Animals”). “Dingo hunting is opportunistic…They pursue small game such as rabbits, rodents, birds, and lizards. These dogs will eat fruits and plants as well. They also scavenge from humans,” (“National Geographic: Animals”). “Australia is home to so many of these animals that they are generally considered pests. A famous “dingo fence” has been erected to protect grazing lands for the continent’s herds of sheep. It is likely that more dingoes live in Australia today than when Europeans first arrived” (“National Geographic: Animals”). However, Australian dingoes are considered endangered because, “their pure genetic strain is gradually being compromised. They can and do interbreed with domestic dogs to produce hybrid animals. Studies suggest that more than a third of southeastern Australia’s dingoes are hybrids” (“National Geographic: Animals”). Due to their dog (as opposed to wolf) status and their opportunistic hunting behavior around humans and livestock, they are considered to be a social parasite.
Fraser Island, home of the Great Sandy National Park, serves as a protected dingo habitat while catering to hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, creating a sometimes volatile recipe for human-dingo encounters. The Queensland Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing (NPRSR) warns tourists against feeding or approaching dingoes or leaving behind coolers or food scraps at campsites which might encourage increasingly aggressive behavior around humans (Queensland, 2012).
While attacks on humans are extremely rare, they do occur, especially when tourists attempt to feed or approach dingoes. Multiple dingo attacks on children have also occurred. The Queensland NPRSR also warns on their Fraser Island website, “Adults! Stay very close—within arm’s reach—of your children. Never leave children in tents, on beaches or walking tracks without adults; not even for a few minutes” (Queensland, 2012). In 2001 a 9-year-old boy was killed by dingoes on Fraser Island and his 7 year old brother was severely mauled. In 2011 a 3-year-old girl playing on the beach on Fraser Island was mauled by dingoes and escaped with severe bites to the legs thanks to passersby who chased off the dingoes (Siemaszko, 2011). The most famous incident was the death of Azaria Chamberlain, a 9 week old baby who was stolen by a dingo (or dingoes) from a campsite in the Northern Territory in 1980 (Gorman, 2012).
Despite the Dingo’s feral instincts in the wild, they are still dogs and have the ability to re-domesticate to a certain extent. The Dog Breed Information Center estimates that, “Dingoes can be kept as pets if they are taken from the litter before 6 weeks of age. At this young age they can be tamed, but once over 10 weeks they should not be taken out of the wild. If properly trained and cared for the Dingo can make a very nice, unique pet. They are said to be able to perform agility and general obedience” (Dingoes, 2013). In Melbourne, Dingoes are being trained as guide dogs (for blind people) because of their good nature, intelligence and long life (Dingoes, 2013).
However, “The Dingo is a breed that has never been fully domesticated,” and can display more aloof behavior than its fully domesticated cousins (Dingoes, 2013). Owning a dingo is certainly not for everyone. Owners must be calm, firm, confident, and consistent. Ownership of Dingoes is actually illegal in some Australian Territories, while stringent permits are issued and enforced in others concerning shelter, food, exercise, etc. to ensure the dingoes are living happy healthy lives (Dingoes, 2013).
Dingoes are sacred to the aboriginal peoples of Australia and feature “In some stories dingoes are the central characters, in others only minor ones,” in one story,”it is an ancestor from the dreamtime, who created humans and dingoes or gave them their current shape…There are myths about shapeshifters (human to dingo or vice versa), “dingo-people”, and the creation of certain landscapes or elements of those landscapes, like waterholes or mountains. The dingo is also responsible for death” (Chapple, 2013).
Archaeological evidence shows that dingoes and Aborigines lived side by side in some cases, but it is unclear whether dingoes were used for hunting (Savolainen et al, 2004). Dingoes (taken as pups) may only have been kept as bed-warmers, companions, and pets, but not fully domesticated (Chapple, 2013).
“In a sparse archaeological record, the earliest substantiated evidence of dingoes is from ≈3,500 yr ago,” which leaves the question: Where did they come from? (Savolainen et al, 2004). “Finds are absent in Tasmania, which was separated from Australia by the rise of the sea level ≈12,000 yr ago. Archaeological data therefore indicates the arrival of dingoes to Australia some time between 3,500 and 12,000 yr ago” (Savolainen et al, 2004). A journey over open sea, even at low sea points, would have been necessary to reach Australia in this time period. As Aboriginal peoples migrated much earlier and lack a sea-faring culture , it is possible dingoes arrived in Australia as a result of the Austronesian expansion or perhaps from maritime peoples from India (as the dingo bears a similar skeletal resemblance to Indian pariah dogs and wolves) (Savolainen et al, 2004).
To help determine, “the origin and time of arrival to Australia of the dingo, 582 bp of the mtDNA control region were analyzed in 211 Australian dingoes sampled in all states of Australia, 676 dogs from all continents, and 38 Eurasian wolves, and 263 bp were analyzed in 19 pre-European archaeological dog samples from Polynesia” (Savolainen et al, 2004).
“The star-like formation of the dingo mtDNA sequences in the minimum-spanning network,” (above), “and the facts that more than half of the dingoes had the central type A29 and all dingo mtDNA sequences but A29 and A9 were unique to dingoes indicate that all dingo mtDNA types originate from A29” (Savolainen et al, 2004).
This suggests, “that the dingo population was formed either from very few dogs, theoretically as few as a single pregnant female, or from a group of dogs that had radically lost genetic variation through one or several severe bottlenecks on their way from the Asian mainland through Island Southeast Asia” (Savolainen et al, 2004).
However, “the presence of a number of mtDNA types other than A29 on the islands surrounding Australia, both in modern samples and in samples from pre-European archaeological sites, indicates that there were several mtDNA types other than A29 present in the region and points out a single founding event. It also indicates that there have not been substantial later introductions of dogs to Australia before the arrival of Europeans” (Savolainen et al, 2004).
“It has been assumed that the Polynesian culture, including the domesticated dog, pig and chicken, spread from Taiwan in connection with the Austronesian expansion, and that the dingo may also have been introduced in this context. However, the data presented here indicate that the Polynesian domestic dogs trace their ancestry from Mainland Southeast Asia, and that dogs may have been present in Island Southeast Asia before the arrival of the Neolithic” (Oskarsson, 2012).
“Therefore, the Polynesian culture probably had a complex origin, with components from Taiwan as well as Indonesia and Melanesia. For the Australian dingoes and the NGSDs also, the likely introduction route was through Mainland Southeast Asia, possibly in connection with the Polynesian dogs” (Oskarsson, 2012).
While Australia dingoes’ singular Haplotype indicates a genetic isolation from other dog populations. The higher percentage of the A29 haplotype in New Guinea could be evidence of gene flow from Australia to New Guinea, a common origin for New Guinea dogs and dingoes, or both.
While there is no evidence that Aboriginal peoples of Australia had a significant cultural exchange with Austronesian or other sea-faring people, there is no evidence to exclude it either. If sea-faring peoples had regular trips to Australia, there is little to suggest that dogs were a regular part of that journey, unless genetically isolated Australian dingoes were “scooped up” as part of a later migratory wave to New Guinea.
I would be interested to see the results of further genetic studies comparing New Guineans and Aborigines, as well as the dogs and dingoes. Any archaeological evidence to support a cultural exchange between New Guinea and Australia would be fascinating as well, and I look forward to hearing more about it in the future.
Corky, Siemaszko. “Dingoes killed after mauling 3-year-old girl on Australian beach.” NY Daily News 26 April 2011, World n. pag. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/dingoes-killed-mauling-3-year-old-girl-australian-beach-article-1.116395>.
“Dingo: (Australian Native Dog) (Maliki) (Warrigal) (Noggum) (Mirigung) (Boolomo).” Dog Breed Info Center. Dog Breed Info Center, n.d. Web. 30 Apr 2013. <http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/dingo.htm>.
“Dingoes, Dingo Pictures, Dingo Facts – National Geographic.” National Geographic: Animals. n.d. n. page. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/dingo/>.
Gorman, James. “After 32 Years, Coroner Confirms Dingo Killed Australian Baby.” New York Times 11 June 2012, World: Asia Pacific n. pag. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/world/asia/after-32-years-coroner-confirms-dingo-killed-australian-baby.html>.
Oskarsson, Mattias CR, et al. “Mitochondrial DNA data indicate an introduction through
Mainland Southeast Asia for Australian dingoes and Polynesian domestic dogs.”
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279.1730 (2012): 967-974.
Savolainen, Peter, Thomas Leitner, Alan N. Wilton, Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith , and Joakim Lundeberg. “A detailed picture of the origin of the Australian dingo, obtained from the study of mitochondrial DNA.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 101.33 (2004): n. page. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <http://www.pnas.org/content/101/33/12387.full
Queensland Government. Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing. Be dingo-safe! on Fraser Island. Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing, 2012. Web. <http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/fraser/dingo-safe.html>.
Additional image sources:
Chapple, Robin. Dingo speared for food at Burrup Peninsula rock art. N.d. Photograph. Australian Dingo Conservation Association IncWeb. 30 Apr 2013. <http://www.dingoconservation.org.au/aboriginal.html>.
Two Aboriginal men with dingoes, Northern Territory Administration Report Lake Mackay Expedition. 1957. Photograph. National Archives of Australia: Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory, June/ July 1957Web. 30 Apr 2013. < http://guides.naa.gov.au/records-about-northern-territory/gallery/image021.aspx>.