The remains of one of man’s oldest best friends may have been found by researchers in the US.

They have unearthed a 10,000-year-old bone fragment from what they say is the earliest confirmed domesticated dog in the Americas.

Samuel Belknap III found the fragment while analysing a dried-out sample of human waste unearthed in south-west Texas in the 1970s.

A carbon-dating test put the age of the bone at 9,400 years, and a DNA analysis confirmed it came from a dog - not a wolf, coyote or fox.

Because it was found deep inside a pile of human excrement and was the characteristic orange-brown colour that bone turns when it has passed through the digestive tract, the fragment provides the earliest direct evidence that dogs – besides being used for company, security and hunting – were eaten by humans and may even have been bred as a food source, he said.

He was not researching dogs when he found the bone, but looking into the diet and nutrition of the people who lived in the Lower Pecos region of Texas between 1,000 and 10,000 years ago.

“It just so happens this person who lived 9,400 years ago was eating dog,” Mr Belknap said. He and other researchers from the University of Maine and the University of Oklahoma’s molecular anthropology laboratories, where the DNA analysis was done, have written a paper on their findings.

The paper has been scientifically reviewed and accepted, pending revisions, for publication in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology later this year. Dogs have played an important role in human culture for thousands of years.

There are archaeological records of dogs going back 31,000 years from a site in Belgium, 26,000 years in the Czech Republic and 15,000 years in Siberia. But canine records in the New World are not as detailed or go back nearly as far.

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