Tag Archives: cattle

Another bookmarked pdf on the Sahara in the Holocene

Rock art and cultural responses to climatic changes in the central Sahara during the Holocene.

A chapter from a book as a pdf. It has some interesting snippets of information in it. Judging by the refernce to publications in 2003 I’d say it was fairly up to date I found some new North African rock art from Tassili in it:



The second image appears to have either freckles or acne.

He wasn’t very complementary about the possible early domestication in el Nabta propsed by Wendorf. Unfortunately I can’t cut and paste any of the text, so you’ll have to read through to find the interesting bits. It has a lot of datings for bovine and ovicaprid remains in North African sites, which is the main reason I’m interested in it.

The spread of ovicaprines in Africa


Dates of definitely domesticated cattle on North Africa.

Capeletti, Northern Algeria 6,530 BP

Fayum, Northern Egypt 6,400 BP

Merimde, Northern Egypt ,6,000 BP

Ti- Torha North, Sahara, 5970 BP

Uan Muhuggiag, Southern Libya, 6035 BP

It’s also not very complimentary about the overall dating at Uan Muhuggiag site, suggesting that a lot of it is seriously incorrect and that about 6,000 BP  for sheep and goats is about as old as the site gets.

Cattle before crops :The Beginnings of Food Production in Africa

Cattle before crops :The Beginnings of Food Production in Africa
In many areas of the world, current theories for agricultural origins emphasize yield as a major concern during intensification. In Africa, however, the need for scheduled consumption shaped the development of food production. African cattle were domesticated during the tenth millennium BP by delayed return Saharan hunter-gatherers in unstable, marginal environments where predictable access to resources was a more significant problem than absolute abundance. Pastoralism spread patchily across the continent according to regional variations in the relative predictability of herding versus hunting and gathering. Domestication of African plants was late (after 4000 BP) because of the high mobility of herders, and risk associated with cultivation in arid environments. Renewed attention to predictability may contribute to understanding the circumstances that led to domestication in other regions of the world.

An interesting pdf, that has a fair bit of information on Nabta Playa and how modern hunter gatherers transplant plants nearer to their homes, and pen wild animals to feed up for meat at social/ritual events. It’s insightful as to the reasons behind some pre-domestication behaviour. I agree with the observation that it’s the favoured/hard to find foods and not the bulk foods that seem to be more likely to be domesticated first. If I think about what I grow in the garden, it’s things like strawberries and tomatoes, for flavour, not as a bulk calorie source. It’s much easier to go out to fetch the bulk of my food, and it seems to be the same for hunter gatherers. I notice they omit that Grigson described the early cattle at Nabta as morphologically wild though.


The observation that wild animals are penned and fed up for special occasions may shed some light on the Nabta Playa cattle remains. There’s been a cattle cult in the area for a long time, and it makes sense that you’ll make sure that you have access to a bull to sacrifice/eat, rather than risk being empty handed on the big day. One of the other Saharan sites is thick with wild Barbary sheep dung so there is a precedent for penning wild animals in the area; a precursor to domestication. I suspect this is more likely to be what happened at Nabta Playa than a full domestication complete with dairying. There was a cattle cult at Catal Hoyuk in Turkey (site of the Turkish domestication of cattle), the same as in El Nabta, so the same incentive would have been on both groups to ensure reliable supply of the animals. However, so far the evidence isn’t great that it got beyond penning  for Nabta. One way to settle this one would be to sample the cattle from Nabta for mt DNA (if possible) to see if they are ancestral to the earlier cattle remains in Egypt and North Africa. A nice direct line back to Nabta into the early neolithic cattle would settle that debate.


The paper also has a good section on the domestication of African crops. It should be noted that some African crops turn up in Asia before they are found in African sites though, so I wouldn’t take the domestication dates at sites as gospel. An interesting (for me at least) observation is that wild grains are often not harvested with a sickle, but are hand stripped or knocked into a basket, which could mean the grains were being eaten in mesolithic Europea too (there’s pollen evidence for it, but plant material doesn’t survive the damp climate).

The case for and against cattle domestication and sorghum cultivation at Nabta Playa

First of all a link to a Fred Wendorf paper on Nabta PLaya.

Nabta Playa and Its Role in Northeastern African Prehistory

Nabta Playabasin offers an unprecedented longitudinal view on the emergence, consolidation and complexification on human–livestock relationships, from the early stage of the Early Holocene (c. 11,000 cal. B.P.) to 6000 B.P. The problem of cattle domestication in Northeastern Africa is considered and hopefully ‘‘solved’’ in the light of new mtDNA evidence which suggest an early late Pleistocene split between African, Asian, and Eurasian wild Bospopulations. The paper presents a contextualized analysis of almost all the components of archaeological investigation, including climatic change, culture history of Early to Mid-Holocene Nabta-Playans, the development of social differentiation, and probably ranking with ‘‘labor-consuming’’ megalithic features with the emergence of characteristic features of pastoralideology and religions. As far as the emergence and adoption of new food ways are concerned, the cultural development outlined with the Nabta Playa  archaeological record is important for the understanding of the Holocene prehistory of Africa as a whole.


One of the most interesting bits (my POV) from this paper was the presence of legumes at about 10,000 BC.

One of these sites yielded charred seeds of wild millet and two varieties of legumes (Wasylikowa, report to F. Wendorf 1996)

It also has a reference to possible early domesticated sorghum. Although again the case is bit weak. There’s more reference to it here. The seeds don’t appear to resemble any kind of cultivated sorghum though. They did seem to be harvesting and storing them in large amounts; some of the houses had storage pits for the grains.

Preliminary chemicalanalyses by infrared spectroscopy of the lipids in the archaeological sorghum show closer resemblance to some modern domestic sorghum than to wild varieties (Wasylikowa et al. 1993)

In a later publication (97)  Wasylikowa describes the Sorghum as more likely to be wild, after another study of the seeds showed them to be typically wild seeds. 

Smaller grain size and the lack of any spikelets containing attached branchlets of the inflorescence or rachis fragments suggest that the material harvested and eaten at the Nabta Playa site were of a wild type.

This sorghum doesn’t seem to ‘spread out’, as farmers tend to expand massively into their hunter gatherer neighbours very rapidly. The expansion of domesticated sorgum doesn’t seem to begin until the expansion  of the domesticated donkey, which parallels it’s spread into Asia quite well, and the donkey seems to have been domesticated about 6,000 BP.

It also mentions the barley from this site, once thought to be an ancient domesticate, but now known to be a neolithic contaminant.

The barley recovered from this site during the 1977 excavations (Hadidi in Wendorf and Schild 1980: 347) is regarded as intrusive.

And the first appearance of goats and sheep.

Around 8000 cal B.P. there was an important new addition to the food economy of the Middle Neolithic. Domestic caprovids, either sheep or goat, or both, were introduced from Southwest Asia, probably by way of the Nile Valley (although the oldest radiocarbon dates now available for the Neolithic along the Nile are about 500 years later)

Since the only legumes I know of come from Anatolia, I shall dig a bit deeper into this. This could possibly be a breadcrumb for my ‘proto-Neolithic’ expansion from the near east, circa 13,000 to 14,000 years ago. The paper has made me warm a bit more to pastoralism there in the Holocene, although I’m not sure that it went beyond providing water to keep the cattle around. The claims for dairying are a bit dubious IMO. There’s a link here to a Wendorf item on the Saharan cattle. I think analysing lipids on the surviving pottery from the era might be a good way forward in this case. There have done some kind of analysis along these lines already (sorghum lipids) but there was no sign of milk fats -I’m sure Wendorf would have mentioned them  if they had been found. If there were dairy fats in the pots that would be a different story, a wild cow isn’t going to let a human near her udders. One of my main objections to the very early pastoralism at Nabta PLaya is that it should have seen a population expansion from the area, and to date no sign of that is to be found.

Also, to quote another source…

Grigson’s study concluded cattle from all periods at Nabta Playa were morphologically wild (2000).

Smith’s study: morphologically wild prior to and including the El Nabta/Al Jerar Maximum (7050 – 6150 BC), but domesticated from the Ru’at El Ghanam phase (5900 – 5500 BC) onward

From the Wendorf item on cattle domestication, it states that domesticated sheep, goats etc are all included in the proto Sahelian, but (as he says above) they all arrive with the early neolithic from the near East about 8,000 years ago along with agriculture (they have been shown to be native Asian domesticates, not African, and the date is more like 7,500 years), so the 9,000 year time depth given for proto Sahelian seems unlikely, 7,500 years or younger would make more sense. These Sahelian words appear to be words of Neolithic and not older origin. You’d also expect the domesticated cattle dates in Mali and Mauritania to be a lot older than 4,200 years if the Sahara was the source of very early domesticated cattle.

Another issue is how long it takes animals to show physical signs of domestication. The domestication of Asian cattle now seeming about 11,000 years old) didn’t show any real changes until about 9,500 years ago, a similar situation is seen with domesticated donkeys-they show signs of load bearing and heavy labour for about 1000 years  before they begin to change physically. This would suggest some leeway in the morphologically studies of the cattle. However, there should still have been physically differentiated domesticated African cattle existing right across the Nile region and the Sahara/East Africa by about 7,5000 BP; domesticates spread out quickly, as does pastoralism/agriculture, and there is no sign of fully domesticated cattle at so early a date in Africa. If there were, they should be definably different to the Asian domesticates (through drift) by the time the sheep, goats, and cereals arrive from Asia. So far, domesticated cattle track the arrival of the rest of the neolithic, evidence for domestication in Nabta is still negligible.

Linguistic evidence

The Proto-Northern Sudanic language contains root words such as “to drive,” “cow, “grain,””ear of grain,” and “grindstone.” Any of these might apply to food production, but another root word meaning “to milk” is cetainly the most convincing evidence of incipient pastoralism. There are also root words for “temporary shelter” and “to make a pot.” In the succeeding Proto-Saharo-Sahelian language, there are root words for “to cultivate”, “to prepare field”, to “clear” (of weeds), and “cultivated field.” this is the first unambiguous linguistic evidence of cultivation. There are also words for “thornbush cattle pen,” “fence,” “yard,” “grannary,” as well as “to herd” and “cattle.” In the following Proto-Sahelian period, there are root words for “goat,” “sheep,” “ram,” and “lamb,” indicating the presence of small livestock. There are root words for “cow,” “bull,” “ox,” and “young cow” or “heifer” and, indeed, a variety of terms relating to cultivation and permanent houses

The word for grindstone could date back to about 25k ago, so it’s not likely to be associated with agriculture, and wild grains were being eaten in the area for a very long time, as were cattle. As for the word ‘to milk’, it’s suggestive but again not exactly solid. Pottery in the Sahara does go back that far though, and the main word for pot seems to have derived from water pot, which is interesting. There are cached book links here and here that go into this in more depth, but as they’ve already make a miscalculation for the age of proto Sahelian judging by the inclusion of sheep and goats which dates it securely to the arrivval of the neolithic-as sheep and goats are not native to Africa and only appear when the domesticates are being herded in from Asia. Non- pastoral people in the Sahara were penning and keeping wild animals (Barbary sheep at Uan Afada); so assuming terms that describe fencing in animals must be from domestication is a fallacy. In essence the presence of the words goat and sheep in proto Sahelian, that can only date to the Neolithic, torpedoes a lot of the linguistics argument, and means proto Sahelian probably has a date of 7,500 BP or slightly younger. This would bring proto Sahara Sahelian within the range of the Neolithic as well, as it’s only slightly older (estimated). A link to the Nilo Saharan Language family family tree. In fact, I’d suggest the presence of agricultural terms dates the arrival of the Neolithic, rather than showing agriculture there at an earlier date. This also casts some major doubt on Ehrets dates for proto Sudanic if it’s estimated by the same method.

This linguistic information would really depend on the dating of the age of proto Sudanic. One inaccuracy I’ve spotted in these links is that Proto Indo European is down as 6,000 years old; it’s now estimated at more like 9,000 years, seems to come from Turkey and is a very good match for the start date and location of the Neolithic expansion. There’s another link that discusses the claimed domestication.

So,  predating the Asian domestication seems unlikely (since it now dates pretty reliable back to 11,000 Bp, the same as sheep and goats), and in a lot of African sites domesticated cattle bones don’t show up until sheep, goats and grain do. It’s not convincing for a very early domestication in the Sahara, although there does seem to have been a specific domestication of African cattle at some point, similar to the domestication of the Zebu In Pakistan. My theory is that the Asian cattle just weren’t up to the local climate and parasites and tended to die in droves, making a local domestications necessary. I’d suggest African cattle domestication probably dates to the Neolithic, sometime between 8,000 and 6,000 BP, and so does sorghum.

Cattle domestication in the Near East was followed by hybridization with aurochs bulls in Europe


Cattle domestication in the Near East was followed by hybridization with aurochs bulls in Europe

Domesticated cattle were one of the cornerstones of European Neolithisation and are thought to have been introduced to Europe from areas of aurochs domestication in the Near East. This is consistent with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) data, where a clear separation exists between modern European cattle and ancient specimens of British aurochsen. However, we show that Y chromosome haplotypes of north European cattle breeds are more similar to haplotypes from ancient specimens of European aurochsen, than to contemporary cattle breeds from southern Europe and the Near East. There is a sharp north–south gradient across Europe among modern cattle breeds in the frequencies of two distinct Y chromosome haplotypes; the northern haplotype is found in 20 out of 21 European aurochsen or early domestic cattle dated 9500–1000 BC. This indicates that local hybridization with male aurochsen has left a paternal imprint on the genetic composition of modern central and north European breeds. Surreptitious mating between aurochs bulls and domestic cows may have been hard to avoid, or may have occurred intentionally to improve the breeding stock. Rather than originating from a few geographical areas only, as indicated by mtDNA, our data suggest that the origin of domestic cattle may be far more complex than previously thought.

This paper contains some ancient DNA from cattle bones. Some from the LBK culture, others from Italy, Austria and Scandinavia. The Italian and Scandiavian samples were pre-domestic, wild cattle.


Figure 1. Map showing the distribution of the Y1 (open) and Y2 (filled) Y chromosome haplotypes among modern cattle
breeds in Europe, defined by country of origin. Size of the sectors is defined by the number of animals identified within
each region with either haplotype. Due to small sample size, data from France, Spain, and Portugal are combined into a
single chart.

I keep seeing contradictory results about auroch DNA in modern cattle. Possibly it’s becasue the mt and Y DNA show very different patterns.

However, while domestic cattle from northern and southern Europe share the same mtDNA lineage, domestic cattle from northern Europe show closer affinity with aurochsen Y chromosome haplotypes sampled locally than with domestic southern European or Anatolian populations. Thus, while hundreds of assayed European domesticates show no maternal contribution from European aurochs (e.g. Troy et al. 2001), north European cattle Y chromosomes seem predominantly to be a local legacy of wild ox.

I’m starting to wonder if semi-wild herding/herd managing similar to the way the Saami live may not have been practised for a lot longer than pastoralism proper in Anatolia, the Ssahara and Europe. The Nabta Playa cattle just seem to have water provided but are physcially like wild Bos, so an intermediate stage of herd tending before pastorlism proper began would seem possible. Some studies in Mesolithic Europe show signs of very high grass pollens and field weeds long before agriculture, so I think it’s possible fields were being cleared to provide grasslands for the herds (there’s no evidence of grain eating). Not domestication again, but management of a resource. Ancient Europeans ate a mostly meat based diet, so herd managing would make a lot more sense as a first step towards the Neolithic then growing plants.

After one very enlightening comment on another page, I’m beginning to think the Neolithic expansion proper may have been more to do with using cattle-power to plough combined with the domestication of grain. Ploughing would have made planting large fields of grain viable. Prior to that a lot of seed would have been lost  to birds, wouldn’t have set, etc, and it would have opened up new possiblities in farmland that previously wouldn’t have produced anything worthwhile, not to mention the extra yield per hour of human labour. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of research on the history of the plough, the oldest I could find goes back about 8,000 years. But it seems odd to think ancient Turks were milking them 500 years earlier but not using them to pull a plough, so I suspect plough use is older. Also there is a PIE word Ar (arable derives from it), which means to plough, and this would suggest the plough might predate the PIE expansion (about 9,000 years ago).

Earliest date for milk use in the Near East and southeastern Europe linked to cattle herding

Earliest date for milk use in the Near East and southeastern Europe linked to cattle herding
Richard P. Evershed1, Sebastian Payne2, Andrew G. Sherratt3,16, Mark S. Copley1, Jennifer Coolidge4, Duska Urem-Kotsu5, Kostas Kotsakis5, Mehmet Özdoan6, Aslý E. Özdoan7, Olivier Nieuwenhuyse8, Peter M. M. G. Akkermans8, Douglass Bailey9, Radian-Romus Andeescu10, Stuart Campbell11, Shahina Farid12, Ian Hodder13, Nurcan Yalman14, Mihriban Özbaaran6, Erhan Bçakc6, Yossef Garfinkel14, Thomas Levy15 & Margie M. Burton15

The domestication of cattle, sheep and goats had already taken place in the Near East by the eighth millennium bc1, 2, 3. Although there would have been considerable economic and nutritional gains from using these animals for their milk and other products from living animals—that is, traction and wool—the first clear evidence for these appears much later, from the late fifth and fourth millennia bc4, 5. Hence, the timing and region in which milking was first practised remain unknown. Organic residues preserved in archaeological pottery6, 7 have provided direct evidence for the use of milk in the fourth millennium in Britain7, 8, 9, and in the sixth millennium in eastern Europe10, based on the 13C values of the major fatty acids of milk fat6, 7. Here we apply this approach to more than 2,200 pottery vessels from sites in the Near East and southeastern Europe dating from the fifth to the seventh millennia bc. We show that milk was in use by the seventh millennium; this is the earliest direct evidence to date. Milking was particularly important in northwestern Anatolia, pointing to regional differences linked with conditions more favourable to cattle compared to other regions, where sheep and goats were relatively common and milk use less important. The latter is supported by correlations between the fat type and animal bone evidence.

I can’t access the whole text (again), but this puts the earliest dairying in Anatolia at 8,500 years ago

Prehistoric contacts over the Straits of Gibraltar indicated by genetic analysis of Iberian Bronze Age cattle

Prehistoric contacts over the Straits of Gibraltar indicated by genetic analysis of Iberian Bronze Age cattle
Cecilia Anderung*, Abigail Bouwman†, Per Persson‡, José Miguel Carretero§, Ana Isabel Ortega§, Rengert Elburg¶, Colin Smith∥, Juan Luis Arsuaga**, Hans Ellegren*, and Anders Götherström*,††
+Author Affiliations
The geographic situation of the Iberian Peninsula makes it a natural link between Europe and North Africa. However, it is a matter of debate to what extent African influences via the Straits Gibraltar have affected Iberia’s prehistoric development. Because early African pastoralist communities were dedicated to cattle breeding, a possible means to detect prehistoric African–Iberian contacts might be to analyze the origin of cattle breeds on the Iberian Peninsula. Some contemporary Iberian cattle breeds show a mtDNA haplotype, T1, that is characteristic to African breeds, generally explained as being the result of the Muslim expansion of the 8th century A.D., and of modern imports. To test a possible earlier African influence, we analyzed mtDNA of Bronze Age cattle from the Portalón cave at the Atapuerca site in northern Spain. Although the majority of samples showed the haplotype T3 that dominates among European breeds of today, the T1 haplotype was found in one specimen radiocarbon dated 1800 calibrated years B.C. Accepting T1 as being of African origin, this result indicates prehistoric African–Iberian contacts and lends support to archaeological finds linking early African and Iberian cultures. We also found a wild ox haplotype in the Iberian Bronze Age sample, reflecting local hybridization or backcrossing or that aurochs were hunted by these farming cultures.

It seems they were moving cattle across the straits about 4,000 years ago.

Tracing the Origins of the Ancient Egyptian Cattle Cult

Tracing the Origins of the Ancient Egyptian Cattle Cult

Studies of ancient Egyptian religion have examined texts for evidence of cattle worship, but the picture given by the texts is incomplete. Mortuary patterns, ceremonial buildings, grave goods, ceramics and other remains also contain evidence of cattle worship and underline its importance to early Egypt. The recently discovered cattle tumuli at Nabta Playa in the Western Desert are identified here as a potential source of evidence on the origins of cattle worship in the ancient Egyptian belief system.

A bookmarked pdf. The author shares my lack of belief in Fred Wendorf’s proposal of a very early (11,000 BP) domestication of Saharan cattle, although for different reasons; mine being distribution of African cattle. It’s over much to limited an area. If it were that early we’d have seen Afrcian Bos derived cattle in South West Asia and not the Anatolian stock they have now. As it is, cattle seem to have arrived with the rest of the Neolithic package from Anatolia, into Egypt about 7,700 years ago.


Bos primigenius, originally only hunted, became domesticated in order to protect a valuable source of fat in the hunter-gatherer diet and to enhance chances of survival during changing environmental conditions. At Nabta Playa in the Western Desert, evidence of the domestication of cattle dates from the Middle Neolithic. This brought about socio-economic changes within the desert communities, which is later reflected in the Late Neolithic cattle tumuli and megalithic constructions at Nabta Playa. The Bos tumuli are indicative of cattle worship, and the Late Neolithic site as a whole displays evidence of a community with greater social complexity than its contemporaries in the Nile Valley. Prolonged contact with desert pastoralists led to the first socially complex society in the Nile Valley, the Badarian. It introduced a new religious and socio-economic element into the life of the Upper Egyptians, namely ownership and burial of domestic cattle. Bos burials are found in Nagada period
settlements, in clearly ceremonial contexts. As pastoralism became increasingly fused in the Nile Valley economy with agriculture, religious associations evolved between the cow goddess and the king. These aspects became codified in the artefactual representations dating from the time of Unification.

It’s more readable than many of these kinds of text. It makes the observation that Badarian culture was hierarchical, from observations of the graves. It also describes the ceremonial burial of a cow at Nabta Playa, not something I’d seen before.

Stone-age pilgrims ‘held barbecues at Stonehenge’

Stone-age visitors to the site of Britain’s most famous historical monument held “bring your own barbecues”, new research has revealed.
By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
10 Sep 2008

Cattle were brought to Stonehenge from as far as Wales and even the Scottish Highlands Photo: Analysis of animal remains found near to Stonehenge has shown that cattle were brought to the area from as far away as Wales or even the Scottish Highlands.

Scientists tested the chemical fingerprint of cattle teeth found at Durrington Walls, a Neolithic monument built 500 years before Stonehenge.

They found that far from being local, the animals could only have been reared in areas of Wales or Scotland, which have high levels of the chemical element strontium in the soil.

It suggests that the area around Stonehenge was already an important national site long before the famous stone circle was erected and attracted pilgrims from all over the British Isles.

Dr Jane Evans, from the British Geological Survey who carried out the research, said: “It looks like people were driving cattle to the area from a significant distance away.

“The area must have been an important place for rituals and gatherings long before the first stones were laid at Stonehenge itself.

“People are coming from considerable distances and dispersion in order to have feasts and were bringing their own food supplies for what must have been a kind of bring your own beef barbecue.”

Durrington Walls 500 metre wide circular earthwork that was studded with wooden posts and dates back to more than 3,000BC.

Stonehenge was not built until around 2,500 BC.

Large numbers of animal remains have been found at the site suggesting it was a hotspot for feasts.

Speaking at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr Evans explained they used teeth to examine where the cattle had come from because they absorbed strontium from soil through the grass they ate in the same way as teeth absorb calcium from food.

Different types of strontium, known as isotopes, are found in different geological areas of the country.

The nearest match to those found at the Durrington site were extremely old rocks found in Wales and the Highlands.

Saw it on Dienekes blog, which I shamelessly mine for info once a month.

DNA and the domestication of cattle.

African, Asian and European cattle.

Archaeological evidence suggests that cattle were first domesticated In Turkey, in the Catal Hoyuk area, from about 10,000 years ago. DNA suggests that there was a second domestication, with archaeological evidence dating that to about 7,000 years ago (pre-Harappan in Pakistan). As yet, no DNA evidence for an independent African domestication, just hybridisation. It also suggests European cattle contain some wild auroch DNA.

Mitochondrial genomes of extinct aurochs survive in domestic cattle

Archaeological and genetic evidence suggest that modern cattle might result from two domestication events of aurochs (Bos primigenius) in southwest Asia, which gave rise to taurine (Bos taurus) and zebuine (Bos indicus) cattle, respectively [1, 2, 3]. However, independent domestication in Africa [4, 5] and East Asia [6] has also been postulated and ancient DNA data raise the possibility of local introgression from wild aurochs [7, 8, 9]. Here, we show by sequencing entire mitochondrial genomes from modern cattle that extinct wild aurochsen from Europe occasionally transmitted their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to domesticated taurine breeds. However, the vast majority of mtDNAs belong either to haplogroup I (B. indicus) or T (B. taurus). The sequence divergence within haplogroup T is extremely low (eight-fold less than in the human mtDNA phylogeny [10]), indicating a narrow bottleneck in the recent evolutionary history of B. taurus. MtDNAs of haplotype T fall into subclades whose ages support a single Neolithic domestication event for B. taurusin the Near East, 9–11 thousand years ago (kya).

An Unusual Pattern of Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups in Northern African Cattle,

Which is too fiddly to reproduce here.

Microsatellite DNA Variation and the Evolution, Domestication and Phylogeography of Taurine and Zebu Cattle (Bos taurus and Bos indicus)

D. E. MacHugh, M. D. Shriver, R. T. Loftus, P. Cunningham and D. G. Bradley
Department of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland

Genetic variation at 20 microsatellite loci was surveyed to determine the evolutionary relationships and molecular biogeography of 20 different cattle populations from Africa, Europe and Asia. Phylogenetic reconstruction and multivariate analysis highlighted a marked distinction between humpless (taurine) and humped (zebu) cattle, providing strong support for a separate origin for domesticated zebu cattle. A molecular clock calculation using bison (Bison sp.) as an outgroup gave an estimated divergence time between the two subspecies of 610,000-850,000 years. Substantial differences in the distribution of alleles at 10 of these loci were observed between zebu and taurine cattle. These markers subsequently proved very useful for investigations of gene flow and admixture in African populations. When these data were considered in conjunction with previous mitochondrial and Y chromosomal studies, a distinctive male-mediated pattern of zebu genetic introgression was revealed. The introgression of zebu-specific alleles in African cattle afforded a high resolution perspective on the hybrid nature of African cattle populations and also suggested that certain West African populations of valuable disease-tolerant taurine cattle are under threat of genetic absorption by migrating zebu herds.
Evidence for two independent domestications of cattle.

R T Loftus, D E MacHugh, D G Bradley, P M Sharp, and P Cunningham
Department of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
AbstractThe origin and taxonomic status of domesticated cattle are controversial. Zebu and taurine breeds are differentiated primarily by the presence or absence of a hump and have been recognized as separate species (Bos indicus and Bos taurus). However, the most widely held view is that both types of cattle derive from a single domestication event 8000-10,000 years ago. We have examined mtDNA sequences from representatives of six European (taurine) breeds, three Indian (zebu) breeds, and four African (three zebu, one taurine) breeds. Similar levels of average sequence divergence were observed among animals within each of the major continental groups: 0.41% (European), 0.38% (African), and 0.42% (Indian). However, the sequences fell into two very distinct geographic lineages that do not correspond with the taurine-zebu dichotomy: all European and African breeds are in one lineage, and all Indian breeds are in the other. There was little indication of breed clustering within either lineage. Application of a molecular clock suggests that the two major mtDNA clades diverged at least 200,000, and possibly as much as 1 million, years ago. This relatively large divergence is interpreted most simply as evidence for two separate domestication events, presumably of different subspecies of the aurochs, Bos primigenius. The clustering of all African zebu mtDNA sequences within the taurine lineage is attributed to ancestral crossbreeding with the earlier B. taurus inhabitants of the continent.


Mitochondrial diversity and the origins of African and European cattle
Daniel G. Bradley, David E. MacHugh, Patrick Cunningham, and Ronan T. Loftus 

The nature of domestic cattle origins in Africa are unclear as archaeological data are relatively sparse. The earliest domesticates were humpless, or Bos taurus, in morphology and may have shared a common origin with the ancestors of European cattle in the Near East. Alternatively, local strains of the wild ox, the aurochs, may have been adopted by peoples in either continent either before or after cultural influence from the Levant. This study examines mitochondrial DNA displacement loop sequence variation in 90 extant bovines drawn from Africa, Europe, and India. Phylogeny estimation and analysis of molecular variance verify that sequences cluster significantly into continental groups. The Indian Bos indicus samples are most markedly distinct from the others, which is indicative of a B. taurus nature for both European and African ancestors. When a calibration of sequence divergence is performed using comparisons with bison sequences and an estimate of 1 Myr since the Bison/Bos Leptobos common ancestor, estimates of 117-275,000 B.P. and 22-26,000 B.P. are obtained for the separation between Indians and others and between African and European ancestors, respectively. As cattle domestication is thought to have occurred approximately 10,000 B.P., these estimates suggest the domestication of genetically discrete aurochsen strains as the origins of each continental population. Additionally, patterns of variation that are indicative of population expansions (probably associated with the domestication process) are discernible in Africa and Europe. Notably, the genetic signatures of these expansions are clearly younger than the corresponding signature of African/European divergence.
Extensive MHC class II DRB3 diversity in African and European cattle

Sofia Mikko1 and Leif Anderson1

 Genetic deversity at the highly polymorphic BoLA-DRB3 locus was investigated by DNA sequence analyses of 18 African cattle from two breeds representing the two subspecies of cattle, Bos primigenius indicus and Bos primigenius taurus. Yhe polymorphism was compared with that found in a sample ofd 32 European cattle from four breeds, all classified as B. p. taurus. Particularly extensive genetic diversity was found among African cattle, in which as many as 18 alleles were recognized in this small random sample of animals from two breeds. The observed similarity in allele frequency distribution between the two African populations, N’Dama and Zebu cattle, is consistent with the recent recognition of gene flow between B. p. indicus and B. P taurus cattle in Africa. A total of 30 DRB3 alleles were documented and as many as 26 of these were classified as major allelic types showing at least five amino acid substitutions compared with other major types. The observation of extensive genetic diversity at MHC loci in cattle, as well as in other farm animals, provides a compelling argument against matin-type preferences as a primary cause in maintaining major histocompatibility complex diversity, since the reproduction of these animals has been controlled by humans for many generations.
The nucleotide sequence data reported in this paper have been submitted to the EMBL nucleotide sequence database and have been given the accession numbers X87641-X87670

An Unusual Pattern of Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups in Northern African Cattle

Comparative DNA studies of the control region for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have revealed surprising complexity in the evolutionary history of Old and New World livestock species (Bruford et al. 2003). For the greater Mediterranean area, these analyses have shown that the mitochondrial control region haplotypes for modern cattle (i.e., Bos taurus) belong to one of 4 sequence clusters or haplogroups (Fig. 1). Most (94%) modern cattle populations from Northern Africa carry haplogroup T1, which is rarely found outside of Africa (6% in the Near East and absent elsewhere). In contrast, modern populations from mainland Europe carry 2 very similar haplogroups, T and T3 (94%), which decrease in the Middle East (65%-74%) and almost completely disappear in Africa (6%). Haplogroup T2 makes up the remainder of this mtDNA diversity and is present at 6% in Europe and 21%-27% in the Near East, but is absent from Africa. These haplogroup distributions have been interpreted as indicating a Near East origin for European B. taurus and the  independent domestication of cattle in Africa (Bradley et al. 1996, Troy et al. 2001, Hanotte et al. 2002).

In this note, we report on the analysis of an ancient mtDNA (control region) sequence as
obtained from a bovine skeletal sample from an early, first millennium, archaeological site near the community of Adi Nefas, Eritrea in Northeastern Africa (900 yr before the present; YBP; Schmidt and Curtis 2001) (Fig. 1). This newly acquired ancient DNA sequence is combined with data for the same mitochondrial control region as determined for 4 specimens from Mali, Northwestern Africa (ca. 900-2200 YBR; Edwards et al. 2004). In concert with the modern mtDNA data, these 5 ancient DNA sequences raise the  possibility that the mtDNA gene pool for Northern African cattle was more diverse ca. 900-2000 yr ago.

The original source of the ancient DNA from Eritrea consisted of a bone section (2 g) that was obtained from a larger piece of fragmented bone. Multiple DNA extractions, amplifications, cloning, and sequencing were performed according to established procedures for ancient DNA (Mulligan 2005). The DNA amplifications and sequencing
relied on the primer pair, AN1 (5′-ACGCGGCAT GGTAATTAAGC-3′) and AN2 (5′-GCCCCAT
GCATATAAGCAAG-3′), for an internal segment of the mitochondrial control region (see below).

Throughout this study, rigorous safeguards were routinely employed to ensure the authenticity of the final sequence, e.g., the DNA extractions and amplifications were conducted in a separate laboratory and building with positive air pressure and HEPA air filtration where no previous bovid material, either contemporary or ancient, had ever been
analyzed. In general, hot arid climates result in poorer organic preservation than colder climates (Edwards et al. 2004). Thus, the fact that this specimen was associated with a cool highland environment may have facilitated the successful DNA extraction.

The new ancient DNA sequence from Adi Nefas, Eritrea was 116 base pairs in length
(GenBank accession no.: AY524815), corresponding to positions 16,042-16,157 of the bovine mtDNA genome (Anderson et al. 1982). This mtDNA sequence is identical to a known control region haplotype for B. taurus (L27727; Loftus et al. 1994). Thus, as a representative of L27727, this ancient DNA sequence belongs to the combined haplogroup T/T3, which is common in modern cattle populations from Europe and the Near East, but rare in those from Northern Africa (Fig. 1). Furthermore, as characteristic of B. taurus, it corroborates the initial morphological identification Fig.

The previously reported ancient mtDNA sequences for the 4 Mali individuals consist of 1
T/T3 and 3 T1 haplotypes (Edwards et al. 2004). Combining the new Eritrean sequence with these 4 Mali orthologues resulted in an ancient mtDNA sample for Northern Africa of 2 T/T3 and 3 T1 haplotypes (Fig. 1). Assuming that these 5 represent a valid random sample (which admittedly is unlikely), a standard binomial test reveals that the probability  of drawing by chance 2 or more T/T3 sequences out of five, given the contemporary haplogroup frequencies for Northern African cattle (Fig. 1), is only 3.5%. Minimally, this result highlights the fact that this set of 5 ancient DNA sequences appears􀂨unusual􀂩, because of the greater frequency of the rare T/T3 haplogroups compared to modern populations of Northern African cattle.

In conclusion, our results raise the possibility that the mtDNA gene pool for Northern African cattle ca. 900-2000 yr ago was more polymorphic in terms of the frequencies of the T1 and T/T3 haplogroups that currently predominate in African and European populations, respectively. This older polymorphism in Northern African cattle may reflect a transition from an even more-diverse ancestral gene pool (as characteristic of its Near East progenitor) and/or the later secondary introduction of T/T3 haplotypes into this region by the immigration of European cattle (Hanotte et al. 2002, Bruford et al. 2003). Concomitantly, selective pressures from domestication and breeding efforts and/or genetic drift may have then led to the final homogenization of this older polymorphism into the current situation of essentially only the T1 haplogroup occurring in Northern Africa. These possibilities reemphasize the fact that both ancient and modern DNA data are of value in the ultimate resolution of the complex history of African cattle
(Edwards et al. 2004).

Early history of European domestic cattle as revealed by ancient DNA

We present an extensive ancient DNA analysis of mainly Neolithic cattle bones sampled from archaeological sites along the route of Neolithic expansion, from Turkey to North-Central Europe and Britain. We place this first reasonable population sample of Neolithic cattle mitochondrial DNA sequence diversity in context to illustrate the continuity of haplotype variation patterns from the first European domestic cattle to the present. Interestingly, the dominant Central European pattern, a starburst phylogeny around the modal sequence, T3, has a Neolithic origin, and the reduced diversity within this cluster in the ancient samples accords with their shorter history of post-domestic accumulation of mutation.

Genetics and Domestic Cattle Origins

Genetics has the potential to provide a novel layer of information pertaining to the origins and relationships of domestic cattle. While it is important not to overstate the power of archeological inference from genetic data, some previously widespread conjectures are inevitably contradicted with the addition of new information. Conjectures regarding domesticated cattle that fall into this category include a single domestication event with the  development of Bos indicus breeds from earlier Bos taurus domesticates; the domestication of a third type of cattle in Africa having an intermediate morphology between the two taxa; and the special status of the Jersey breed as a European type with some exotic influences. In reality, a wideranging survey of the genetic variation of modern cattle reveals that they all derive from either zebu or taurine progenitors or are hybrids of the two. The quantitative divergence between Bos indicus and Bos taurus strongly supports a predomestic separation; that between African and European taurines also suggests genetic input from native aurochsen populations on each continent. Patterns of genetic variants assayed from paternally, maternally, and biparentally inherited genetic systems reveal that extensive hybridization of the two subspecies is part of the ancestry of Northern Indian, peripheral European, and almost all African cattle breeds. In Africa, which is the most extensive hybrid zone, the sexual asymmetry of the process of zebu introgression into native taurine breeds is strikingly evident.

Figure 1. This map shows approximate distributions for the various types of domesticated cattle found in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Also shown are distributions for the closely related Bibos species, banteng and gaur. This diagram is modified from Payne6 and Epstein and Mason.5