Friday, 6 April 2012

The wonderful adventures of Bos Indicus across Eurasia

I already observed in a previous post that in northern Mesopotamia, in the area of Mitanni, we find signs of the presence of Bos indicus in the 2nd millennium BC, which could be a significant clue of the Indian origins of the Mitanni rulers (along with the appearance of the peacock, as we will tell in a next post). But we did not expect to find signs of the zebu even in Ukraine! But this is what I discovered reading a site about Baltic languages and their affinities with Sanskrit. There I found a link to a study by Kantanen et al. of 2009 about bovine haplogroups which can be read in a full form. This is from the abstract:
Here, we provide mtDNA information on previously uncharacterised Eurasian breeds and present the most comprehensive Y-chromosomal microsatellite data on domestic cattle to date. [...] The mtDNA data indicates that the Ukrainian and Central Asian regions are zones where hybrids between taurine and zebu (B. indicus) cattle have existed. This zebu influence appears to have subsequently spread into southern and southeastern European breeds.
It is already an impressive incipit. Then, in the introduction, we read:
Analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) D-loop sequences and Y-chromosome-specific polymorphisms (such as single nucleotide polymorphisms, insertion–deletion mutations and microsatellites) have indicated that humpless taurine (Bos taurus) and humped zebu cattle (B. indicus) have clearly distinguishable mtDNA and Y-chromosomal haplotypic profiles (Loftus et al., 1994; Bradley et al., 1996; Hanotte et al., 1997; Mannen et al., 2004; Götherström et al., 2005; Li et al., 2007b). This observation points towards two independent domestication events from genetically differentiated aurochs (B. primigenius) populations for the two basic taxa of domestic cattle. The modern European and northern Asian domestic cattle are of humpless taurine type and descend from the aurochs populations domesticated 10000 years ago in the Near Eastern region (Troy et al., 2001; Edwards et al., 2007a). However, in some areas of the Eurasian continent, phenotypically humpless cattle are known to have been influenced by historical admixture from zebu cattle. One of such cattle breeds is the Mongolian cattle 
In this context, we can also cite a study by Chen et al. of 2010 about the origins of the zebu, affirming that "both the I1 and I2 haplogroups within the northern part of the Indian subcontinent is consistent with an origin for all domestic zebu in this area. For haplogroup I1, genetic diversity was highest within the Indus Valley among the three hypothesized domestication centers (Indus Valley, Ganges, and South India). These data support the Indus Valley as the most likely center of origin for the I1 haplogroup and a primary center of zebu domestication." In Harappan sites, remains of Bos indicus are very rich, and also images of its bull are frequent on the seals, like here on the right, and its presence is already attested from the first period of Mehrgarh, as confirmed by Jarrige in an article from Pragdhara 18: "Osteological studies as well as clay figurines indicate that zebu cattle (Bos indicus) is well attested in Period I and became most probably the dominant form. Mehrgarh provides us therefore with a clear evidence of an indigenous domestication of the South Asian zebu."
But let's go back to our article on bovine genetics. Going into detail, we discover from Table 1 that there are 4 Y-DNA (paternal) haplogroups in Iraq belonging to the zebu and one in the Bushuev cattle. The Iraqi haplogroups, as we have seen, are not surprising, because they can be connected with the appearance of Bos indicus in Mesopotamia in the second millennium BC, and probably there were also other occasions in history for the importation of zebus in Iraq. About the Bushuev cattle, it is a recent breed: it "originated in the Golodnaya Steppe, Syr Darya and Gulistan districts of Syr Darya region of the Uzbek SSR. [...] The founder herd was formed at the farms of the Vedenski and Golodnaya Steppe experimental station, set up during 1906-18 by M.M. Bushuev. The local zebu cattle were crossed with Dutch and Swiss Brown bulls and some Simmentals and the best crosses were bred inter se." (see here). So, from this FAO site we learn that in the steppes around the Syr Darya, in present Uzbekistan, there is traditionally a 'local zebu cattle'. But from the cited study on the origins of zebu we learn that zebu is present in a great part of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan), and also in Oman (an area in close commercial relation with the Indus Valley) and Turkey, besides Iraq. But from the FAO site we also discover that it is present also in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, and we find even their history:
The Central Asian (or Turkestan) zeboid is, in fact, a crossbred nearly humpless population that carries the blood of local cattle in the Turkmen, Uzbek, and Tajik republics. The male has a small hump and the female is humpless. It was obtained by crossing local cattle with the Iranian zebu as early as the 7th or 8th century A.D. The influence of the Iranian zebu on local cattle continued until the 17th century or even later. At the same time, in some regions of the Turkmen SSR adjacent to Iran, there are some animals with external characteristics which are typical of zebu. These animals have all the traits and qualities of the species and are known as the Khorosan and Seistan zebu breeds.
So, in  eastern Iran there are ancient zebus, and archaeology tells us that in Seistan "zebu bones and figurines are attested in great quantities at the site of Shahr-i Sokhta in the period c. 2900-2500 BC" (see here). However, it is not possible that the zebu arrived in Central Asia in the 7th century, because it is already present in various images of the BMAC civilization of the 2nd millennium BC, but it was there also earlier, as is proved in the same FAO page somewhat above:
A particularly important role in determining the time when zebu first appeared in Central Asia is assigned to the archaeological excavations at Kaunchip (Uzbekistan). V.I. Gromova (1940) writes: "Noteworthy is the presence of zebu, which is confirmed by the finding of the bifid spinous process of a thoracic vertebra of a young animal; no other ungulate animal except zebu has such a bifid spinous process". This find permits us to assume that the true zebu appeared in Central Asia during 3000 to 2500 years B.C. It also confirms the view once expressed by Frederiks who believed that zebu had appeared in Turkestan before they came to Mesopotamia or at least they spread into the two regions at the same time.
And this page reveals something more about the Azerbaijani zebu:
There are grounds for believing that zebus were raised on the territory of the present-day Azerbaijan 4000-4500 years ago. During the excavations of a stone burial ground in the vicinity of the city of Lenkoran the French archaeologist Jacques De Morgan unearthed and described a unique round seal of black and grey agate depicting a humped zebu bull covered with dense hair. This he dated to 2500-2000 B.C. The excavations carried out by personnel of the Institute of History (Academy of Sciences of the Azerbaijan SSR) at Eddi Tepe (or Seven Hills) in the Feazulin district have produced numerous finds, including two bronze figures of a humped zebu. Another rare find unearthed at Eddi Tepe is an elegant ring made of some precious metal, with a fine drawing depicting a zebu. It is currently exhibited in the Museum of Ancient Culture of Azerbaijan. These finds, which are believed to date to the middle of the first millennium A.D., confirm that zebu with various types of humps were widely spread in the past on the territory of the present-day Azerbaijan SSR.
The same Jacques De Morgan visited the area of Gīlān (see here), in the South Caspian Iran, which, from a period following the mid-2nd millennium BC, has given very clear figurines of zebus, particularly at Marlik, as is shown from the image below, including a model of zebu oxen with yoke and plough. It is interesting that the Russian archaeologist Kurochkin compared the Marlik royal cemetery with Mitanni and Vedic customs (the use of placing mortar, pestle and wagon in the tomb), and even the form of Marlik mortars and pestles with the Linga and Yoni of 'Hindu shrines' (see here).

So, 3000-2500 BC there were zebus in Uzbekistan, 2900-2500 BC in Seistan, 2500-2000 BC (but this date maybe should be confirmed, since it comes from the estimate of De Morgan at the beginning of the 20th century) in Azerbaijan, Caucasus, after 1700 BC in northern Mesopotamia, after 1400 BC in Hittite Anatolia (see here).
Who brought these animals out of South Asia at such an early age? Is it only a matter of trade or should we think to a movement of people? Is it a coincidence that the areas of zebu breeding are placed in the historical regions of Indo-Aryans and Iranians between Northern India, Central Asia and Iran, and in West Asia are strongly connected with the Mitanni kingdom ruled by Indo-Aryans?

But let's go on with our genetic study by Kantanen et al. About the mtDNA, Figure I tells us that there is one haplogroup belonging to zebu in the Ala-Tau breed, and one in Ukrainian Whitehead and Bushuev. From the FAO page, we learn that "Ala-Tau cattle were created on farms of the Kirgiz and Kazakh Republics by crossing local Kirgiz (Kazakh) cattle with the Swiss Brown and selection of the crosses. The breed was formed in the piedmont areas of the Zaili Ala-Tau." So, again Central Asia. The Bushuev is a repetition, but what about the Ukrainian Whitehead? In the FAO page, we read: "In recent years the distribution and use of zebus and zeboids have considerably expanded. They have spread to the Ukraine, Georgia, the Altai and Krasnodar territories, Dagestan, Kazakhstan and the non-blackearth zone of the Russian Federation." So, is this simply a recent arrival? Kantanen's genetic study has a different story to tell:
This study suggests that the Ukrainian and the Central Asian regions belong to hybrid zones where taurine-zebu crossbreds have existed. The admixtured nature of these breeds has not previously been reported (Dmitriev and Ernst, 1989; Felius, 1995). The indicus mtDNA haplotype found in the modern Ukrainian Whitehead cattle may descend from ancient Steppe cattle, which were upgraded with European bulls to establish the Ukrainian Whitehead breed (Dmitriev and Ernst, 1989). Similar kinds of longhorn and grey cattle are found in southeast and southern Europe, such as Maremmana, Hungarian Grey and Modicana, collectively termed as Podolian breeds (Felius, 1995). Studies of nuclear genetic markers have suggested that the genetic influence from zebu is evident in breeds of the Podolian group (Pieragostini et al., 2000; Cymbron et al., 2005). The detected genetic influence from zebu cattle in the Podolian cattle appears to originate, at least partly, from ancient Steppe cattle. According to Epstein and Mason (1984), longhorn grey-white cattle populated southern, southeastern and Central Europe from the Russian southern steppe regions more than thousand years ago. Moreover, we postulate that the globally famous Jersey cattle have an intrinsic origin in these ancient southern Russian steppe cattle, which is supported by our Y-chromosomal data indicating genetic affinity between the Jersey and the Serbian Podolian cattle. 

Quite striking. So, Bos indicus has secretly crossed the Channel and reached Jersey Island and Great Britain in the DNA of Jersey cattle... A study cited above, by Cymbron, reports:
In the present study, B. indicus influence in Europe was measured systematically using PAAs. These were found at low frequencies in some European breeds (figure 3). The average frequency of B. indicus PAAs is higher in Mediterranean breeds (6.7%) than in the rest of Europe (5.1% without outliers). Within the Mediterranean, the average frequencies of B. indicus PAAs in Italy is the highest (8.1%). The Greek Sykia breed is intermediate (6.3%) and the average frequency in Portugal is 5.4%. The highest absolute values are found in two Italian breeds: Maremanna (8.1%) and Modicana (10.8%). Interestingly, a percentage of individuals of the Modicana breed have bifid processes in the last thoracic vertebrae, traditionally considered a B. indicus anatomical characteristic (Grigson 2000).      
The Modicana breed is in Eastern Sicily, the Maremmana (photo above) in Southern Tuscany, and it is connected with the Etruscans, who, according to Herodotus and recent genetic studies, came from Anatolia. There is even a genetic study showing that five bovine breeds which can be connected with Etruscans, and one of Sicily (Cinisara), have strong affinities with Anatolian and Near Eastern breeds. Strangely, from that study the Modicana breed and other Italian Podolian breeds appear as quite far from Near Eastern breeds, and close to Western breeds like Charolais and Simmenthal. Actually, there is the theory that the Modicana breed was brought by the Normans from continental Europe. Maybe, it comes from a crossbreed between a previous zeboid breed of Anatolian or Greek or Arab origin and a French breed.
The study by Cymbron et al. tries to explain all the zebu DNA in Europe as coming from Anatolia, but it is not necessary: it may also come from Central Asian Steppes in different periods: the first period could be the arrival of Indo-Europeans through Ukraine. In this context, archaeology should give more details.
Then, the presence of zebu genes and representations in Asia and Europe seems to be a promising ground of research, and certainly a confirmation that there was an important movement from South Asia to the West. It is difficult to think that this movement was only of cattle without herders, particularly where we find strong archaeological and historical signs of a common culture. A very recent genetic study on the human populations of Afghanistan has shown a high presence (around 20%) of surely Indian Y-DNA haplogroups (L-M20, H-M69, and R2a-M124) in Pashtun and Tajiks there, not to speak of R1a1a which can also come from India and Indus Valley. It has also shown that "BATWING results indicate that the Afghan populations split from Iranians, Indians and East Europeans at about 10.6 kya (95% CI 7,100–15,825), which marks the start of the Neolithic revolution and the establishment of the farming communities." And we know that in Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, Bos indicus was domesticated from the beginning of Neolithic. 
Actually, scholars have always thought of Indo-Europeans as the people of the horse and searched for horses in order to find Indo-Europeans. But they were also, and I would say more, the people of the cow and the ox, as is shown from the root gau/-gou-: Sanskrit go-, Avestan gāu-, Tocharian keu /ko, Armenian kov, Lithuanian gùovs, German Kuh, Irish bó, all for 'cow', Albanian ka/kau, Greek βοῦς, 'ox, cow', Latin bōs, bovis, Croatian and Serbian vo, 'ox'. Therefore, let's look more at Bos indicus and taurus for finding the traces of Indo-Europeans!