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Man Domesticated Cattle in Ancient Northwest China 10,000 Years Ago

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Nov 08, 2013 11:21 AM EST
Cow
After excavating the jawbone of a cow in northern China with telltale characteristics of being a domesticated animal, a multidisciplinary team of researchers report that humans may have started domesticating cattle around the same time in more regions of the world than previously believed. (Photo : Reuters)

After excavating the jawbone of a cow in northern China with telltale characteristics of being a domesticated animal, a multidisciplinary team of researchers report that humans may have started domesticating cattle around the same time in more regions of the world than previously believed.

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A little more than 10,000 years ago, early humans had already begun domesticating cattle in the Near East, according the research team, which was co-led by scientists from University of York and Yunnan Normal University. Early domestication efforts gave rise to humpless, or taurine, cattle, followed about 2,000 years later by the domestication of humped, or zebu, cattle in South Asia.

However, this latest research, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, points to both morphological and genetic evidence that there was an effort to domesticate cattle in northeastern China about 10,000 years ago, around the same time as the earliest evidence of taurine cattle husbandry in the Near East.

The researchers came to their conclusions after excavating a cow's jawbone at a site in northeastern China. Carbon dating placed the specimen at 10,660 years old. But the jaw also displayed a unique pattern of wear on the molars, which the researchers contend is the result of of long-term human management of the animal. A DNA analysis of the ancient jaw revealed that the animal did not not belong to the same cattle lineages that were domesticated around the same time in the Near East and South Asia.

"The combination of the age of the jaw, the unique wear and genetic signature suggests that this find represents the earliest evidence for cattle management in north-east China; a time and place not previously considered as potential domestication center for cattle," the University of York said in a statement.

Michi Hofreiter, a professor in the department of biology at York, said the specimen is "unique and suggests that, similar to other species such as pigs and dogs, cattle domestication was probably also a complex process rather than a sudden event."

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