Neolithic Chinese People First Tamed Cattle Over 10,000 Years Ago

A new study reported in the journal Nature Communications provides the first multi-disciplinary evidence that humans in what is now China first domesticated cattle around 8,000 BC, around the same time cattle domestication took place in the Near East.

This map shows locations of cattle domestication centers compared with aurochs distribution.  Image credit: Hucai Zhang et al.

This map shows locations of cattle domestication centers compared with aurochs distribution. Image credit: Hucai Zhang et al.

Until now, scientists believed that humans started domesticating cattle around 10,000 years ago in the Near East, which gave rise to humpless cattle, while 2,000 years later humans began managing humped cattle in Southern Asia.

However, scientists from China and Europe reveal evidence for management of cattle in north-eastern China around 10,000 years ago. This indicates that Neolithic humans may have started domesticating cows in more regions around the world than was previously believed.

A lower jaw of an ancient cattle specimen was discovered during an excavation in north-east China, and was carbon dated to be 10,660 years old.

The jaw displayed a unique pattern of wear on the molars, which is best explained to be the results of long-term human management of the animal.

Ancient DNA from the jaw revealed that the animal did not belong to the same cattle lineages that were domesticated 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 centre for cattle.

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Bibliographic information: Hucai Zhang et al. 2013. Morphological and genetic evidence for early Holocene cattle management in northeastern China. Nature Communications 4, article number: 2755; doi: 10.1038/ncomms3755