October 12, 2006

Neolithic goats

Goats Key to Spread of Farming, Gene Study Suggests
Goats accompanied the earliest farmers into Europe some 7,500 years ago, helping to revolutionize Stone Age society, a new study suggests.

The trailblazing farm animals were hardy and highly mobile traveling companions to ancient pioneers from the Middle East who introduced agriculture to Europe and elsewhere, researchers say.

The onset of farming ushered in the so-called Neolithic Revolution, when settled communities gradually replaced nomadic tribes and their hunter-gatherer lifestyles between 8000 and 6000 B.C.

A team of archaeologists and biologists has traced the origins of domesticated goats in Western Europe to the Middle East at the beginnings of the Neolithic period.

The study is based on DNA analysis of goat bones from a Stone Age cave in France and suggests the animals spread across Europe quickly after their introduction. (Get goat photos, facts, and more.)

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0602753103

Divergent mtDNA lineages of goats in an Early Neolithic site, far from the initial domestication areas

Helena Fernández et al.

Goats were among the first farm animals domesticated, 10,500 years ago, contributing to the rise of the "Neolithic revolution." Previous genetic studies have revealed that contemporary domestic goats (Capra hircus) show far weaker intercontinental population structuring than other livestock species, suggesting that goats have been transported more extensively. However, the timing of these extensive movements in goats remains unknown. To address this question, we analyzed mtDNA sequences from 19 ancient goat bones (7,300-6,900 years old) from one of the earliest Neolithic sites in southwestern Europe. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that two highly divergent goat lineages coexisted in each of the two Early Neolithic layers of this site. This finding indicates that high mtDNA diversity was already present >7,000 years ago in European goats, far from their areas of initial domestication in the Near East. These results argue for substantial gene flow among goat populations dating back to the early neolithisation of Europe and for a dual domestication scenario in the Near East, with two independent but essentially contemporary origins (of both A and C domestic lineages) and several more remote and/or later origins.


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