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!   



  1. This is a shocker! No one i think before this post have tried to reveal the gravity of Cows among Indo-european cultures in such manner.
    Certainly the spread of Zebu across whole eurasia is very significant as it again signals the highly probable migration out of South Asia to the whole Eurasia and other parts!
    Yes we were most fond of Horse-Indoeuropean connection but as we have found before the emergence of Scythians ~800b.c. Horses were probably only used as a mode of transportation and as food!
    The Rikved have no verse describing people riding horses! They only gave that impression to the devas like Aswins, Surya,Indra etc! So the warification of the mammal for humans was a far fetch in Rikvedic times which happend many generations after and ofcourse how can we forget the clear notion of Horses having uncanny 34 ribs in Rikved, the notion which can only be connected with the Arabian horse domesticated from Neolithic times.
    Many gratitudes for joining the dots.

  2. You're welcome!:) In the Bronze age horses were used mainly with chariots, also in Mycenean Greece for instance. The myth of the Centaurs has been explained as a foreign (nomadic) population riding horses, who were seen like a monstrous unity of man and horse... This is also the situation in the Rigveda. According to the Vedic Index, riding in battle is not mentioned, however riding is mentioned in few passages (I.163.9; V.61.2). Anyway, one of the passages cited, I.162.17, is probably wrong, since the word (pārṣṇi) translated as 'heel' by Griffith, as something that can have hurt the horse, in the Mahabharata is 'the extremity of the fore-axle to which the outside horses of a four-horse chariot are attached'. So, horses were normally used with chariots, for races and battles, and this kind of use of the horse spread in the Near East in the II mill. BC, particularly with the Indo-Aryan 'Maryanni' warriors...

    1. Giacomo, A major paper on Iranian y-dna by Grugni et al.;jsessionid=49A7AEE306635A328C7FAE5337A900B0

  3. So are you suggesting that horses in Middle-east were introduced as ridable and as a war weapon by Vedic similar Mitannians? Like the trainer Kikkuli? If its the case then Scythians can't be credited as originators of its warification by riding them in wars.
    There is a nother thing and it is about the cow, as you know many Arya scripts like Mahabharata, Manu, Rikved etc mentions Cow as a valuable food! But today its a taboo as the cow is holy and symbol of Ahimsa! though cow from Rikvedic times were precious and if i am not wrong there is a verse also in RV which says to protect and to not eat the animal!
    So what is the deal? Is no-beef of todays aryas was a direct effect from brother cultures like Jainism and Buddhisms atmost support on nonviolence or the thought was there from the seed and overcame the other?
    P.s. Jainism is a mysterious religion and also quite ancient isn't it?:-D.

  4. About the first question, no, I don't suggest that horses were used for riding by the Mitanni and Maryanni, but with chariots, also in war. The Scythians instead had to ride because in the steppes and prairies it's more practical: actually, it is quite difficult to accept that the light chariot could be brought from the steppes, since it needs roads and clean ground!
    About the cow, already in the Rigveda she was called á-ghnyā 'not to be killed'. But in Vedic texts there are often mentions of eating of bovine meat (including the cow, dhenu, see the Vedic Index) and bovine sacrifice, but probably the ox was used normally and not the cow (when there is mention of go- it is ambiguous). In Harappan sites we have many bovine bones as eating remains.
    So, probably the taboo of killing the cow was already there from Vedic times, because it was seen as the mother, source of milk, but surely not of oxen. There is a significant Sutta (Brahmanadhammikasutta, Suttanipata) in Pali verses, where the Buddha says to old Brahmins that in ancient times cows where not sacrificed, but when Brahmins started to desire to eat their meat, they asked the king Okkaku (Ikshvaku) to sacrifice them. From the context it seems implicit that the old Brahmins knew the concept of the sanctity of the cow, but that it was commonly sacrificed at that time.
    I have now found a book visible online on the subject of the 'holy cow' (, but probably you know it.
    In Jainism and Buddhism the principle of Ahimsa anyway is not particularly for cows.
    Historical Jainism arose at the time of the Buddha, He was a younger contemporary of Mahavira, but jain traditions about previous Tirthankaras like Parshva and Nemi may have some bases.

  5. Splendid! Seeing your vast gyaan of our culture i clearly say you deserve the title of "Guru of Truthful Indology" (no kidding), so its confirmed that the holy cow concept and not eating the beef has its origins from the seed the Rikved. About Jainism some say It is old as to the time of SSC/IVC do you agree?

  6. Another thought : it would be interesting to know
    how zebu traveled to europe.. from south of the caspian and black sea or from north of it?
    If it traveled from south most likely it is through trade, if north...then there is possibility that people migrated with it, spreading new agricultural technology.

  7. Dear Anonymous, thank you for the flattering epithet ;), about beef eating I didn't say it's already prohibited in the Rigveda, in the Vedas it seems that there is not such a prohibition at all. You can see here the Vedic Index, at the entry 'Māṃsa':
    About Jainism, I think we don't have bases for saying that it is old as the SSC, and I have the impression that it is rooted in the area of Bihar, although Neminath is connected by Jain tradition with Kathiawar and Krishna, who is, for me, at the end of the Late Harappan period. Actually, the ascetic movement to which Jainism belongs appears to be connected with the age of the Upanishads, but it's true that already in the late Rigveda (X.136) we have the Muni (with long hair, not like Jains), and in the Mahabharata a Muni and Yogin like Jaigishavya, adherent of Mokshadharma, is placed some generations before the battle, so maybe in the XVI century BC.

  8. About the question of Xcogitation, I find that it is well posed. But we could not exclude that also from Anatolia there were migrations towards the west, the case of the Etruscans is significant, and also the Romans had the myth of Aeneas migrating from Troy to Latium. Actually, around the 1200 BC there were probably many migrations in the Mediterranean, because of the crisis of the states of the Near East, particularly the Hittite Empire: it's the age of the 'Sea Peoples'. In Italy we have the Proto-villanovan culture connected with metals: populations from Anatolia, advanced in metalurgy, came in Italy in search of metals, and they could bring with them Anatolian cattle.

  9. You mentioned about Kampilya and it seems that its city plan is similar to Dholvira...this is amazing. Interactions with you are really letting me know many new things.

    Also another thought that come to mind from sea people. There could be three routes of connections across indo-european languages.
    South of the the two inland seas ( Caspian, black sea), North of it......

    or may be across it.
    What are the possibilities that similar to Mediterranean sea, Black Sea and Caspian sea would be hub of intercultural trade.
    If Banana cultivation could spread from south east asia to africa, then what role these inland seas were playing in ancient trades?

    No matter what indo-european homeland theory one may profess, these seas come right in the middle of activity with many historically important rivers flowing in them ( volga, dniper, Danube, historically amu darya? )

    So similar to port facing the arabian sea ( dholvira, dwaraka etc) need to find what important cities are there related to these inland seas.

    If historically mahabharata, ramayana are reliable, then probably Shahnameh wouldd also throw some light.

    Undersea archeology of these seas would probably in future , one may find new things.

    ex. Famous city of Darbent ( daraband ) in Russian dagestan or Sari the port city in iran....

    also How is Jiroft civilization/ shahr-e -sokhta is related to Shahnameh?

  10. Yes that is true but later aryas thought that "is it really needed to eat the meat of a noble and valuable animal?" the answer was no.

  11. Shahnameh is certainly a very rich poem, but it is quite late, around 1000 CE, then I think that it should be compared with the Avestan sources, which are the first we have for Iran, and certainly very interesting for reconstructing their ancient history. Some figures of Avesta and Shahnameh can be easily compared with Vedic figures, like Yama, Trita and Kavi. About Jiroft and Shahr-e-sokhta, it is possible that they are part of the Iranian civilization, it is interesting that on Jiroft vases we have clearly zebus... but are you somewhat connected with Iranian culture, Xcogitation?
    About the Black and Caspian sea, it is a good question, but I don't know the archaeological situation. About the black Sea, I could say that it was an area of diffusion of Greek civilization in the age of the second colonization (800-600 BC). But it doesn't seem that big movements of people happened through that sea. There is also an important theory that the Black sea appeared quite late (5600 BC) due to the overflow of the Mediterranean sea, submerging many settlements and forcing people to flee to other areas like the Danube valley and Mesopotamia.

  12. About Nirjhar's comment, it is interesting that it seems that also for Romans beef was not normally eaten, someone says because it was sacred and only used for sacrifices, others say because oxen were used for agriculture.

  13. Yes the case of the Romans is interesting and some also suggest that due to the hot climate a big mammals meat was quite difficult to obtain.
    Not just Hindus their fellow Zoroastrians also don't prefer it much due to the legend of Cow saving their master at childhood and some Chinese also disagrees to kill the mammal for meat as for its agricultural importance.

  14. A good deal of work in a neglected but vital area of research. More detailed studies of bos indicus dna in europe and India may also tell us when the dna arrived. was it a historical roman era, copper/bronze age or neolithic.

    The latest commercial tests on human R1a y haplogroup reveal a more apparently parsimonious distribution of r1a in europe vs south asia. As usual south asia is inadequately sampled so the picture remains hazy. There appears to be deep split between the r1a clades of europe and India ruling out recent migration.

  15. There is a very recent and interesting paper on the horse domestication issue!:

  16. There is also the Italian breed known as Romagnola, see here:

    The breed was formed by crossing Northern Italian cattle with those brought by the invading Ostrogoths, originally in the Crimean area and South West Ukraine:

  17. Having purposely avoided the (to my knowledge as yet immature) genetic argument about the IE homeland, I have nonetheless wondered if there was no genetic evidence of the bovines that the migrating IEs must have taken with them. Here it is, and it tends to confirm the Out-of-India Theory.

  18. Thank you for your comment, Dr. Elst. Actually, I am not sure that it confirms the OIT, because not all IEs are associated with zebus, and the presence of zebus in Central Asia is so ancient that it is no more an exclusively Indian animal in the Bronze Age. Moreover, Mehrgarh where the zebu was domesticated already in the Neolithic is not really in India, is on the border between the Indo-Aryan and the Iranian worlds. I am more inclined to see Southern Central Asia as the PIE homeland than India, and some recent genetic arguments about SNPs of R1a tend to show that Indian R1a is a particular branch, and not the origin of the haplogroup. And the Western Asian autosomal component in India is quite strong, confirming ancient migrations from the west. I have recently discovered, making a genetic test with the Genographic Project, that in Europe there are strong percentages of a 'Southwest Asian' component (in Denmark 16%, in Tuscany 17%), so described:
    "This component of your ancestry is found at highest frequencies in India and neighboring populations, including Tajikistan and Iran in our reference dataset. It is also found at lower frequencies in Europe and North Africa. As with the Mediterranean component, it was likely spread during the Neolithic expansion, perhaps from the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent. Individuals with heavy European influence in their ancestry will show traces of this because all Europeans have mixed with people from Southwest Asia over tens of thousands of years." According to a post of Dienekes, the West Asian component, apparently for a great part the same as the Genographic SW Asian, arrived into Europe during the Bronze Age:
    Please see also my last post about Indo-Iranians and that about Ancient DNA from Europe, where I have made a recent addition.

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