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article imageStudies show dogs were domesticated before cattle

By Karen Graham     Jan 20, 2015 in Science
At one time or another, we have all pondered the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? But have you ever wondered which animal, the cow or the dog, was domesticated first? You may be surprised by the answer.
Cattle and dogs have been a part of human existence for thousands of years. Both species served humans, dogs as protectors, companions and even as food. Cattle were used as a ready source of meat and milk, and even as a sign of wealth in some cultures. But there are clues that point to the early domestication of one animal over the other.
Cattle of the world: Multiple domestication events
Cattle were independently domesticated from a now extinct species. Bos primigenius, the aurochs, in the vicinity of what is now Turkey and Pakistan about 10,000 years ago. This domestication event led to two additional domestication events, one in Middle East/Europe, and the other in the Indian subcontinent, producing two different and distinct lineages, taurine cattle and Indicine cattle.
The Zebus, or Bos primigenius indicus, were domesticated around 9,000 years ago and are humped-back cattle. Most are pure-breds, and some have been bred with taurine cattle. These cattle are the Brahman's, with a fatty hump on the shoulders, a large dewlap and long droopy ears. Originating in South Asia, these animals are used to high temperatures. They are used as oxen in the fields, and for meat and milk. People also use their the dung, as fuel and manure.
Zebu  Bos taurus indicus.
Zebu, Bos taurus indicus.
The taurine cattle were domesticated about 8,000 years ago and were traded across the known world and beyond, showing up in China, Mongolia and Korea about 5,000 years ago. In 2014, a team of researchers from the University of Missouri successfully completed the genetic history of 134 different cattle breeds from around the globe.
Bronze Cowrie Container
From the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D. 8). Excavated at Jinning  Yuna...
Bronze Cowrie Container From the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D. 8). Excavated at Jinning, Yunan Province, 1956. From the looking at the figures, can you guess what kind of cattle they were?
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This important study proved that domesticated African cattle were brought by migrating peoples thousands of years ago, rather than being a separate domestication event. This is key to understanding that cattle traveled with humans as they began to engage in agricultural practices, turning from hunter-gatherers to a more settled life. This is also key to understanding the variations in the breeds of cattle today because it helps us to understand man's migrations.
The origins of "man's best friend"
Even though dogs have a rich and varied genetic history, people are often surprised to find out that a study published in January 2014 shows that all domestic dogs today are derived from one single domestication event around 11,000 to 16,000 years ago.
This domestication event came before the rise of agriculture, and more than likely occurred during man's hunter-gatherer stage. The DNA study showed that the common ancestor of dogs and wolves went extinct thousands of years ago. What is even more surprising is that dogs are more closely related to each other, and not to wolves today. And this is true regardless of where in the world they are living.
"The common ancestor of dogs and wolves was a large, wolf-like animal that lived between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago," Robert Wayne, co-senior author of the study said. "Based on DNA evidence, it lived in Europe." Wayne went on to explain that during the Late Pleistocene period, 20,000 to about 12,000 years ago, many species went extinct because of the ice age. He also says that it may be a coincidence, but this was also about the time that humans became more prevalent in parts of Europe.
Polychrome painting of wolf in the Font-de-Gaume cavern. published by Henry Fairfield Osborn.
Polychrome painting of wolf in the Font-de-Gaume cavern. published by Henry Fairfield Osborn.
So how did man and the dog become friend? Scientists think that roving packs of the now-extinct wolves probably followed the humans as they hunted woolly mammoths or other large prey, feasting on what was left behind. This soon led to the wolves getting braver and more comfortable being around humans, and soon they were sharing the warmth of the wood fires. So do today's wolves and dogs interbreed? Of course they do. But the DNA sequencing shows that the two species are not the same.
More about bovines, canines, first to be domesticated, sister branches, Aurochs
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