What is a “Steppe Dog”……… “Silk Road Dogs”
It is clear, the more you look into the “Livestock” dogs of Asia that the group is basically one continuum of type. I refer to this group of landrace dogs as “Steppe Dogs” – meaning having come from and moved via the steppes and with the steppe nomads of Asia. Local variations of dog type do occur, but at the same time so does genetic exchange. I do not feel these dogs are breeds in the modern sense, but should be more accurately thought of as landraces (Wiki). It is the genetic exchange that is key to the survival and make up of the local variations of the type. Simply, dog landraces that are geographically bordering others are more closely related to each other, but also that the dogs on one side of the continuum are still related to dogs on the other side. The Mongolian Bankhar is related to the Portuguese Estrella Mountain dog through thousands of inter-ancestors that reproduced under ecological evolutionary forces as well as forces that the people and their cultures and movement have dictated.
We hypothesize that if one were to map, both actually and genetically, the distribution of what is generally called the “Livestock Guardian Dog” (LGD) native type, it would become clear that these dogs are distributed as they are due to the historical movement of the nomads of the Asian steppes and that the dogs with the highest genetic diversity (i.e. most variability and greatest number of novel genetic traits shared within the population as a whole) would be the most ancient landrace. This later point is already well supported by current genetic studies such as Adam Boyko’s et al work at Cornell University. Taken as a whole the Bankhar, Tibetan Bhotia (Gaddi) and the Central Asian Shepherd types seem to represent the oldest domestic dog types. The data points to the Bankhar being one of the most variable and having a few unique haplotypes and therefore the might be the likely oldest ancestor to all domestic dogs. BUT we feel it is much more likely that the Bankhar, Tibetan and the Central Asia Shepherd are all descendants of a common ancestor dog that developed in the region of the Altai Mountains and spread with the steppes people from Stone Age to the movement of the early Turkic people, Scythians, and onto the Mongol invasions, etc. (three major language groups of the Steppes are thought to originate here and perhaps as those peoples moved, their livestock guardian dogs went with them). Add to this that these dog races seem to (might) fan out from these human invasion/migration routes and from the path of the silk road, then one might be able to infer not only why these dogs ranges are as they are (cultural, animal husbandry, etc), but why they have, in our opinion, been interbreeding and exchanging genes for all these ages.
We are proposing to study the genetic aspects of the dogs long the silk route and steppe people routes to determine if dogs nearer to this “path” are more or less ancient than those farther away. By mapping the more genetically diverse types and their relatedness through this range we feel that we could locate the center or origin as well as explain how this movement might have occurred relative to the dog’s human companions. The hypothesis is that this location would be the same as what we are seeing now (somewhere in-between western Mongolia, north western China and Tibet and Kazakhstan ). But it would also show how, or hint at the mechanism, of the dog’s migration with people over time.