Dogs may have become man's best friend in Central Asia, specifically in what is modern day Nepal and Mongolia, a new genetic study suggests.
Dogs evolved from Eurasian grey wolves at least 15,000 years ago, but just where and how they made the historical leap from roving in packs to sitting before human masters has been a matter of debate.
Aiming to resolve a long-standing mystery about where dogs were first domesticated, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the "largest-ever survey of worldwide canine genetic diversity," said scientists.
The international team, led by Adam Boyko at Cornell University, analyzed more than 185,800 genetic markers in some 4,600 purebred dogs of 165 breeds, along with more than 540 village dogs from 38 countries.
They found that dogs from East Asia, India and South-West Asia had high levels of genetic diversity.
"We find strong evidence that dogs were domesticated in Central Asia, perhaps near present-day Nepal and Mongolia," the scientists wrote.
"Domestic dogs may have originated in Central Asia and spread to East Asia and beyond."
Some archaeologists have long believed Central Asia was a likely origin for the domestication of dogs, but genetic studies have been lacking.
Still, the scientists cautioned, "We cannot rule out the possibility that dogs were domesticated elsewhere and subsequently, either through migration or a separate domestication event."
More study is needed to confirm the findings, and to determine whether these early dogs were just scavenging scraps from hunter-gatherers, or if they were assisting in the hunts.
"Further work characterizing remaining indigenous populations genetically, morphologically and behaviorally is vital for building an improved understanding of dog evolutionary history," the scientists wrote.
This article first appeared on ABC Science Online.