A Huge Footprint on History
People and Cattle Worked Together to Create Human Civilization
by John Crim, age 13
First oxen were wild beasts, but now they are tamed cattle. This phenomenon didn’t happen overnight. New research pinpoints when in history cows were domesticated.
When humans learned to grow their own food, the whole planet began to change. The world’s first cities and civilizations grew up in large river valleys, in places such as Egypt, the Middle East and China. People first domesticated plants like wheat and barley, along rivers like the Nile. We know that between 4,000 and 5,000 B.C. people were growing large amounts of food near the great rivers of the Middle East. Cities grew rapidly.
But when did humans learn to domesticate cattle? That’s a much more difficult question for researchers to answer. We know that humans and dogs learned to live together long ago. And it makes sense that once humans domesticated cattle it helped them grow more food. But nobody knows for sure when that happened.
The current scientific consensus, based on excavations in the Near East, is that the first domestication of wild oxen occurred about 10,000 years ago. Recently, a team of scientists used DNA evidence to explore whether this domestication took place on a regional scale, or if it was a hobby of a few particularly talented breeders.
All of the cattle found in Europe, the Americas, and Northern and Eastern Asia, came from a herd of about 80 animals. Researchers isolated DNA from the bones of 15 domestic cattle. They dated the remains to between 1,900 to 8,000 years ago. They then compared a fragment of this DNA to a similar slice of DNA from modern cattle. The differences between the two groups allowed scientists to learn about what conditions early cattle lived in.
Using a computer simulation equipped with data about the genetic diversity of cattle today, researchers hypothesized key things that happened in the beginning.
Domestic cattle helped create modern society. Without domesticating these animals we wouldn’t have the food to support huge civilizations. This would be a much different world than the one we know today.
[Sources: Atlas of Archaeology: Atlas of world history]