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Apr 4, 2012

All Cattle Genetically Linked to One Small Herd Domesticated in Iran 10,500 Years Ago

Auroch Mosaic on the Ishtar Gate
 of Babylon (ca. 575 BC)
Scientific researchers analyzing the DNA of domesticated cattle from 10,500 years ago have concluded that all modern cattle are descended from a small herd of 80 wild ox (aurochs) domesticated in Iran.  This conclusion was published in the Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution in March 2012 by a team of international scientists from CNRS and National Museum of Natural History in France, the University of Mainz in Germany, and UCL in the UK.

The study is based upon DNA extracted from the bones of domesticated cattle found at Iranian archaeological sites.  Based on computer simulations, the authors concluded that the DNA differences in ancient cattle and cattle living today could only have occurred based on a small number of progenitors, a herd estimated at a size of 80 aurochs that had been domesticated some time close to when the first human settlements were adopting agriculture.  According to the principal researcher on this project, Dr Ruth Bollongino of CNRS, France, and the University of Mainz, Germany, this study is significant because it is based on DNA from a warm region.  DNA from colder regions of the world is much easier to study because the risk of contamination is much lower.  This is why, up until now, scientists have done so much more research on mammoths and mastodons than cattle.

The publication notes that wild aurochs were common throughout Asia and Europe, however they would have been difficult to domesticate.  This would have posed a great effort with an unknown reward for nomad hunters.  Iran was the site of early human farming settlements and it is logical that these humans would have had the extra time and resources to experiment with efforts to domesticate aurochs.  Other archaeological studies confirm that goats, sheep, and pigs were also domesticated in the Near East.

For see:

"DNA Traces Cattle Back to a Small Herd Domesticated Around 10,500 Years Ago," ScienceDaily, 27 March 2012.

Bollongino, Ruth, Joachim Burger, Adam Powell, Marjan Mashkour, Jean-Denis Vigne, Mark G. Thomas. “Modern Taurine Cattle descended from small number of Near-Eastern founders,” Journal of Molecular Biology, 14 March 2012.

About Margaret


CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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