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, 103 (21), 8113-8

The Origin of European Cattle: Evidence From Modern and Ancient DNA


The Origin of European Cattle: Evidence From Modern and Ancient DNA

Albano Beja-Pereira et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.


Cattle domestication from wild aurochsen was among the most important innovations during the Neolithic agricultural revolution. The available genetic and archaeological evidence points to at least two major sites of domestication in India and in the Near East, where zebu and the taurine breeds would have emerged independently. Under this hypothesis, all present-day European breeds would be descended from cattle domesticated in the Near East and subsequently spread during the diffusion of herding and farming lifestyles. We present here previously undescribed genetic evidence in contrast with this view, based on mtDNA sequences from five Italian aurochsen dated between 7,000 and 17,000 years B.P. and >1,000 modern cattle from 51 breeds. Our data are compatible with local domestication events in Europe and support at least some levels of introgression from the aurochs in Italy. The distribution of genetic variation in modern cattle suggest also that different south European breeds were affected by introductions from northern Africa. If so, the European cattle may represent a more variable and valuable genetic resource than previously realized, and previous simple hypotheses regarding the domestication process and the diffusion of selected breeds should be revised.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.


Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
The polymorphic sites obtained by comparing the most frequent modern cattle sequences (T1–T4) with the Italian (this study; AU-It1–AU-It5) and British (refs. , ; AU-Br1–AU-Br6) aurochs sequences. T1 is the most common African sequence, T2 is found almost only in Middle Eastern and Anatolian breeds, T3 is the most common European sequence, and T4 is found only in eastern Asiatic breeds. Haplotypes T1 and T3 are also the roots of the most common European and African clades, called T1 and T3 haplogroups, respectively. Note that a five-digit position number is shown vertically above the sequences.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
European spread of agropastoralism. Each black cattle figure represents a population sample point. Different hypothesized maritime routes (dashed line with arrow) and continental route (solid line with arrow) are indicated. Dash-dot lines are suggestive of the geographic limits of African cattle influence in Europe. Pie chart represents the frequencies of the four major mtDNA haplogroups, with circle sizes proportional to sample sizes. The figure is adapted from ref. .

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