Revisiting the Coast Salish Woolly Dog

Researchers and Coast Salish people are analyzing a 160-year-old Indigenous dog pelt in the Smithsonian’s collection to pinpoint the origin and sudden disappearance of the culturally significant Coast Salish Woolly Dog.


Chris Stantis. Banner photo above: The reconstructed woolly dog shown at scale with Arctic dogs and spitz breeds in the background to compare scale and appearance; the portrayal does not imply a genetic relationship. 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 Salishcommunities in the Pacific Northwest for millennia. A team of researchers 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 Dec. 14, in the journal 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.

“This was one of the most exciting projects in my career as an archeologist and an isotopes expert because of the way that we were able to weave together these different types of knowledge,” said Chris Stantis, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Geology & Geophysics at the University of Utah and co-author of the study.  “To work with geneticists, historians, and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers just makes better research to bring it all together.”

Read the full article by Lisa Potter in @TheU.