VICTORIA -- Researchers with the University of Victoria (UVic) and the Tseshaht First Nation have made breakthrough discoveries about the diet of ancient "woolly dogs" that lived among local First Nations thousands of years ago.

Researchers say they have analysed the remains of an ancient domestic dog breed, commonly referred to as "wool dogs," which date back approximately 3,000 years. The remains were found in the area of an ancient Tseshaht settlement on Keith Island, also known as Kakmakimilh, in the Broken Group of Islands just off Vancouver Island’s west coast, near Ucluelet.

Isotopic analyses have revealed that the ancient dogs ate large amounts of fish which were likely fed to the domesticated species by humans.

"Our research indicates that Tseshaht dogs were eating and possibly being fed significant amounts of marine fish—specifically, anchovy, herring and salmon—amounting to approximately half of the food they consumed throughout their lives," said Dylan Hillis, a UVic student and lead author of a recent study on the species.

"We were able to provide direct and detailed evidence for the consumption of marine resources by dogs and humans of Tseshaht territory," he said in a release on Oct. 1. "Obviously, the role that humans took was substantial since dogs were not catching these fast-moving fish on their own."

Researchers say that some B.C. First Nations relied on woolly dogs for their thick hair, which was used as a textile material in blankets and clothing.

The wool was held in high regard and was worn in the regalia of high-ranking people, say researchers.

The importance and reliance of Tseshaht dogs eventually declined as cheaper and more accessible sheep’s wool was introduced to the region.

That being said, for many years woolly dogs were raised on B.C.’s coast. UVic researchers say that woolly dogs were much more common than larger domestic dogs in the region.

"Domestic dogs appear to be a substantial and enduring part of village life in coastal Indigenous communities over the past 5,000 years, but were especially prominent in areas historically associated with the use of small white dogs for wool," said UVic archaeologist Iain McKechnie

"Dogs are especially prominent in sites around the Salish Sea and western Vancouver Island and for sites where skeletal measurements were taken, small sized ‘woolly’ dogs were proportionally more abundant than larger ‘village’ dogs," he said.

UVic researchers say that recent discoveries have helped scientists better understand the relationship between humans and domesticated dogs both in B.C. and globally.

McKechnie and project co-director Denis St. Claire say they are grateful for the collaboration they have had with the Tseshaht First Nation, Parks Canada and with the "many other First Nations who support archaeological research in their territories."