This photo provided by the Center for American Archaeology on Nov. 12, 2013 shows canine bones buried at the Koster site in Greene County, Ill. The fossil specimen at this site is dated to 8,500 years ago. A large DNA study suggests dogs arose from wolves in Europe some 19,000 to 32,000 years ago. Results were published online Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013 by the journal Science. AP Photo/Center for American Archaeology, Del Baston
NEW YORK (AP) — For years, scientists have been dogged by this evolution question: Just where did man's best friend first appear?
The earliest known doglike fossils come from Europe. But DNA studies have implicated east Asia and the Middle East. Now a large DNA study is lining up with the fossils, suggesting dogs originated in Europe some 19,000 to 32,000 years ago.
Experts praised the new work but said it won't end the debate.
Scientists generally agree that dogs emerged from wolves to become the first domesticated animal. Their wolf ancestors began to associate with people, maybe drawn by food in garbage dumps and carcasses left by human hunters. In the process they became tamer, and scientists believe people found them useful for things like hunting and guard duty. Over a very long time in this human environment, wolves gradually turned into the first dogs.
The latest attempt to figure out where this happened was published online Thursday by the journal Science.
Researchers gathered DNA from fossils of 18 ancient wolflike and doglike creatures that lived up to 36,000 years ago in Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the United States.
They compared the genetic material to modern samples from 49 wolves from North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, 77 dogs of a wide variety of breeds including cocker spaniel, basenji and golden retriever, and four coyotes.
The DNA of modern dogs showed similarities to the genetic material from the ancient European specimens and modern-day European wolves, the researchers reported.
The first dogs evolved by associating with hunter-gatherers rather than farmers, since dogs evidently appeared before agriculture did, they said.
"There are now, based on genetic evidence, three alternative hypotheses for the origin of dogs," said Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles, a study author.
He said his results suggest a better case for Europe than for east Asia or the Middle East. He also said the kind of wolf that gave rise to dogs is now extinct.
Olaf Thalmann of the University of Turku in Finland, another author, said the work doesn't mean that Europe is the only place where dogs emerged.
"We conclude that Europe played a major role in the domestication process," he said in an email.
The work makes a strong argument for an origin in Europe, although it might not be the only place, said Greger Larson of Durham University in England, who did not participate in the research. "I think it's a real step in the right direction."
About the Greene County Site in Illinois. . . ELDRED, Ill. — Hidden in a small valley of the Illinois River in Greene County, Illinois, south of the tiny town of Eldred, lies a rare archaelogical find.
Between 1969 and 1978, archaeologists from Northwestern University excavated an extraordinary site on Theodore and Mary Koster's farm. University students spent 10 weeks each summer excavating with shovels and trowels in search of artifacts.
They excavated more than two acres of ground using block-style excavations, the deepest of which was 35 feet below the ground surface, during a decade of work on the site. They found thousands of artifacts that provide clues about life during the Archaic period.
According to the Illinois State Museum, archaic people in North America, like people elsewhere in the world, developed an extraordinary relationship with wolves. Archaeologists are not sure how, why, or exactly when Native Americans tamed wolves, but the result of this experiment is the domesticated dog (Canis familiaris).
Some of the oldest dogs in North America were found at the Koster site in Greene County, Illinois.
At Koster, archaeologists found the graves of four dogs in an Early Archaic settlement. Wood charcoal from one of the graves is 8,500 years old. Each grave contained a nearly complete skeleton of a dog. They were deliberately buried in shallow graves, the same treatment residents of the community provided for people who died.
Each dog was laid on its side and then covered with dirt. None of the graves appear to have been marked.
Dogs probably played a key role in the development of hunting techniques used by Archaic people. There is no evidence at Koster that dogs themselves were a source of food.
American Indians used this site in the lower Illinois River valley with relatively few interruptions from 8,700 years ago until around 800 years ago. Evidence spanning 300 or more generations of American life was documented at the site through years of archaeological field work and study in the 1970s.
Artifacts from one of the deepest levels of the excavation (circa 8,500 years ago) document the beginnings of a more settled Archaic way of life. Many important discoveries were made here, including some of the oldest evidence of the use of ground stone for food preparation, and the establishment of a cemetery for deceased members of the community, along with the presence of domesticated dogs.
As one of the earliest cemeteries in eastern North America, Koster provided evidence that Early Archaic people had special rituals for burying the dead, including carefully positioning them in prepared oval pits.
Middle Archaic cemeteries were established near the village and on a bluff crest overlooking the Illinois River valley. Differences in treatment of the dead based on age and sex suggest differences in social status.