It turns out that dogs are not just man's best friend. Prehistoric women from the early Neolithic period may have also been in daily close contact with canines, according to a new study.

Based on archaeological evidence, some 8,000 years ago women were not just living canine-centric lives, but they were also eating the same food the dogs ate and suffering from one or more illnesses common among dogs.

"It is possible that females were more involved in caring for the dogs - possibly more often the ones who fed them, organized living quarters for them, and cleaned up after them," Andrea Waters-Rist, an author of the study and an archaeologist at Leiden University, told Discovery News.

As described in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Waters-Rist and her team analyzed remains from two 8,000-year-old cemeteries near Lake Baikal, Siberia. The researchers determined that women from both cemeteries had, at some point in their lives, suffered from a parasitic infection called hydatid disease, or echinococcosis.

Echinococcosis typically only occurs in humans when they have had direct contact with canines. People can also get it after ingesting food or water that has been contaminated by dog feces that contain the parasitic eggs.

"It's been recognized for centuries - mentioned in ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish texts - and in modern times it is a relatively common infection in Northern Eurasian reindeer herders who use dogs to help with herding, and in indigenous Alaskan groups reliant on sled dogs," Waters-Rist explained.

Cysts from the parasites, which look like calcified, egg-like objects, were found in the abdomens of the women. The researchers suspect that the cysts were probably growing in the liver of each person.

These findings suggest that prehistoric individuals valued dogs similar to the way we do today.

"One can envision a camp in the boreal forest with people and dogs living side by side, and dogs being used in many everyday tasks, with dogs being as important to the group as they are to many people today," added Waters-Rist.