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DNA evidence suggests that dogs were domesticated in Europe

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Dog burial from Horizon 11 of the Koster site, Greene County, Illinois, US
Dog burial from Horizon 11 of the Koster site, Greene County, Illinois, US

Domesticated dogs are incredibly diverse. According to the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, the largest internationally recognized registry of dog breeds, there are currently 339 breeds all over the world, all aiding humans in work, play, and companionship. However, new findings published in Science this week suggest that they all can trace their relationship with humans back to Europe.

To determine where and when domestication occurred for canines, a team of scientists led by Olaf Thalmann at Finland's University of Turku used mitochondrial DNA to establish links between a wide range of modern dog and wolf species with ancient canine fossils dated between 19,000 and 33,000 years old. The scientists saw that genetic sequences from modern dog breeds most closely matched those from both modern and ancient Europe. Thalmann was also able to extrapolate that because of the age of the oldest fossils employed in the study, wolves may have been domesticated during the hunter-gatherer period of human history.

Determining when dogs were domesticated has always been a complicated subject. An earlier study published in Nature in 2010 suggested that domestication events for dogs most likely occurred in the Middle East, while a 2011 Heredity study claimed that Y-chromosome DNA supported the theory that domestic dogs originated in Southeast Asia. This new research likely isn't the final word on what's become an ongoing debate.