The first farmers who arrived into Europe had company when they travelled out of the Near East during the Neolithic expansion. Along with many other plants and animals, they also brought their dogs.

The international collaboration conducted by researchers at École Normale Supérieure of Lyon, the University of Oxford, the National History Museum and the University of Rennes, has revealed that dogs have quite literally been man’s best friend, from as far back as 9,000 years ago.

The study published in Biology Letters, used genetic DNA sequencing to assess whether the incoming farmers had bought Near Eastern dogs along with them, or if they had instead adopted indigenous European dogs after their arrival.

The Neolithic is a cultural revolution that took place more than 11,000 years ago, which was marked first by the birth of settled agricultural practices and then by the spread of those traditions across Europe.

The team analysed samples from 99 ancient European and Near Eastern dogs remains, spanning the Upper Palaeolithic and Bronze age. The findings suggest that the dogs accompanied people during the Neolithic migration from the Near East to the North and West of Europe. The study also indicates that during the Neolithic dogs from the Near East gradually replaced European populations of dogs associated with hunter-gatherers which existed in Europe as long as 15,000 years ago.

Professor Greger Larson, Director of the Palaeo-BARN at Oxford and one of the senior authors of the study, said: ‘We love our dogs, and we often use them to define ourselves. So perhaps it’s not a surprise that hunter-gatherers in Europe had one kind of dog, and farmers from the Near East had a completely different sort.'

The research reveals that prior to the arrival of farmers, all the dogs in Europe belonged to the same genetic group. When Near Eastern farmers arrived, they brought with them dogs belonging to a completely separate genetic group. The study also revealed the slow progression of dogs from the Near East first to Southeast Europe, then to Central Europe, before reaching Northern and Western Europe.

‘We have shown that dogs were an essential element of the Neolithic expansion in Europe. Much like sheep, goats, pigs, cattle and even cultivated plants (wheat, barley, peas, broadbeans and lentils), dogs travelled with farmers from the Near East during their multi-millennial migration across Europe. The history of humans and dogs has been intimately linked for more than 15,000 years, ' said Anne Tresset and Morgane Ollivier, lead authors of this study. 'It's yet more evidence of our entwinned story.’

The full paper, 'Dogs accompanied humans during the Neolithic expansion into Europe,' can be read in Biology Letters.