Researchers conducted a re-examination of an ancient puppy burial, finding evidence of the earliest known companionship between dogs and human beings

The recent study took place at the grave at Oberkassel, a suburb of Bonn in western Germany. First discovered in 1914, it is the oldest known burial where humans and dogs were buried together almost 14,000 years ago.

According to the findings, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science earlier this month, ancient people in the paleolithic era cared for a sick, domesticated puppy for weeks before it passed away.

The puppy was about 28 weeks old when it died as signs on its teeth revealed that it may have contracted canine distemper virus at about 19 weeks old. The researchers indicated that it may have suffered two or three periods of serious illness, each lasting up to six weeks.

The care of human beings is what may have kept the pup alive for as long as it was.

"This would have consisted of keeping the dog warm and clean [from] diarrhea, urine, vomit [and] saliva," as well as providing the puppy with adequate water and food, said the researchers in the study.

Veterinarian and Leiden University PhD candidate Luc Janssens was the one who spotted problems with the dental remains, owing it to experience in treating sick animals. Janssens is currently a doctoral student of archaeology at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The young canine was buried along with another dog, a man, and a woman, making it the oldest known grave to contain both dogs and people. The grave was also said to contain a number of artifacts, including a bone pin, a sculpture of an elk made from elk antlers, the penis bone of a bear and a red-deer tooth.

What was striking upon analysis was the prolonged period of care that was received by the animal as well as the level of status suggested by its grave. Signs such as these point to the possibility that ancient people may have already developed a strong emotional attachment to dogs.

"While it was sick, the dog would not have been of any practical use as a working animal. This, together with the fact that the dogs were buried with people, who[m] we may assume were their owners, suggests that there was a unique relationship of care between humans and dogs as long as 14,000 years ago," Janssens was quotes as saying by LiveScience.

There is still much to be explored regarding the history around the domestication of dogs, but the study brings researchers one step closer to understanding our long-running bond with man's favourite animal.