Nov. 15 (UPI) -- A new DNA study has shown that dogs were domesticated in Europe, contradicting earlier studies suggesting dogs became "man's best friend" in the Middle East or East Asia.
The new study does not dispute the universally accepted fact that dogs were an evolutionary off-shoot of wolves, but this is not the end of the debate regarding their origins. Previous studies had placed the domestication of dogs at 15,000 years ago, which did not match up with fossils of dog-like animals found that are 30,000 years old.
Dogs started to diverge from wolf populations due to their proximity to humans and human habitat. In the process they become tamer and humans started to domesticate and breed them for their hunting skills and for guard duty.
"You can see how wolves benefited from living near humans because they got these carcasses, but humans too would have benefited," said Dr. Olaf Thalmann from Finland's University of Turku.
Researchers gathered DNA samples from dog-like animals that lived up to 36,000 years ago in Argentina, Belgium and Germany among others. They compared these to DNA samples of modern day wolves and found that it matched those from Europe -- not Asia.
One of the problems scientists have is that dog populations have become very mixed over time, as a result of being moved around by their human owners. This has complicated research because it is not easy to compare these mixed breeds with the pure bred specimens of wolves and other dog-like animals.
Researchers agree that a resolution is unlikely any time soon and the debate will continue.