YAKUTSK, Russia, March 28 (UPI) -- Researchers in Russia recently finished dissecting the second of two preserved puppies discovered in the Arctic tundra of Siberia's Yakutia region.
The dissection included the removal of the puppy's intact brain -- a first.
The ancient canid specimens have been dubbed the Tumat dogs, named for the early human settlement close by. The dogs hail from the Pleistocene era, dating back 12,460 years.
"A special research program will be formed to study the brain of Tumat puppy, involving both Russian and foreign institutions," Sergey Fyodorov, leader of the Tumat puppy project and a researcher at North-Eastern Federal University's Mammoth Museum, said in a news release.
Researchers continue to debate the domestication of canines -- when, where and how it happened.
Were wolves captured or coaxed in their coexistence with humans, or did they come to human caves on their own accord in search of food? Did domestication originate in a singular location and spread or develop concurrently and independently in several locations?
Various studies suggest canines were first domesticated in Europe and the Middle East. Some scientists say canine genes point to a genesis in Mongolia -- not far from the Tumat dogs. One of the most recent surveys determined dogs came from Southeast Asia, and Southeast Asia alone.
But scientists say the newly studied puppies could belong to the lineage of some of the first domesticated wolves, and they may help researchers begin to answer some of these questions. Or they may just inspire more queries.
Because puppies' bones are relatively thin, they're rarely found by paleontologists. The excavations are remarkable regardless of their scientific value.
"Discoveries of this kind of predators of mammoth fauna are extremely rare and can be counted on one hand," Fyodorov said.
The remote Arctic region has previously yielded a small wolverine and two lion cubs.
"All of them were found on the territory of Yakutia," Fyodorov said. "There are no other discoveries of well-preserved Pleistocene predators worldwide."