August 22, 2015

European cows: overall Neolithic genesis and its sophisticated management in the Scandinavian frontier

Quantity over quality series.

These are two different papers but both deal with European bovine cattle in the Neolithic, hence the bundle.

Amelie Schleu et al. The genetic prehistory of domesticated cattle from their origin to the spread across Europe. BMC Genetics 2015. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1186/s12863-015-0203-2]



Cattle domestication started in the 9th millennium BC in Southwest Asia. Domesticated cattle were then introduced into Europe during the Neolithic transition. However, the scarcity of palaeogenetic data from the first European domesticated cattle still inhibits the accurate reconstruction of their early demography. In this study, mitochondrial DNA from 193 ancient and 597 modern domesticated cattle (Bos taurus) from sites across Europe, Western Anatolia and Iran were analysed to provide insight into the Neolithic dispersal process and the role of the local European aurochs population during cattle domestication.


Using descriptive summary statistics and serial coalescent simulations paired with approximate Bayesian computation we find: (i) decreasing genetic diversity in a southeast to northwest direction, (ii) strong correlation of genetic and geographical distances, iii) an estimated effective size of the Near Eastern female founder population of 81, iv) that the expansion of cattle from the Near East and Anatolia into Europe does not appear to constitute a significant bottleneck, and that v) there is evidence for gene-flow between the Near Eastern/Anatolian and European cattle populations in the early phases of the European Neolithic, but that it is restricted after 5,000 BCE.


The most plausible scenario to explain these results is a single and regionally restricted domestication process of cattle in the Near East with subsequent migration into Europe during the Neolithic transition without significant maternal interbreeding with the endogenous wild stock. Evidence for gene-flow between cattle populations from Southwestern Asia and Europe during the earlier phases of the European Neolithic points towards intercontinental trade connections between Neolithic farmers.

Jurt J. Gron et al., Cattle Management for Dairying in Scandinavia’s Earliest Neolithic. PLoS ONE 2015. Open access → LINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131267]


New evidence for cattle husbandry practices during the earliest period of the southern Scandinavian Neolithic indicates multiple birth seasons and dairying from its start. Sequential sampling of tooth enamel carbonate carbon and oxygen isotope ratio analyses and strontium isotopic provenancing indicate more than one season of birth in locally reared cattle at the earliest Neolithic Funnel Beaker (EN I TRB, 3950-3500 cal. B.C.) site of Almhov in Scania, Sweden. The main purpose for which cattle are manipulated to give birth in more than one season is to prolong lactation for the production of milk and dairy-based products. As this is a difficult, intensive, and time-consuming strategy, these data demonstrate complex farming practices by early Neolithic farmers. This result offers strong support for immigration-based explanations of agricultural origins in southern Scandinavia on the grounds that such a specialised skill set cannot represent the piecemeal incorporation of agricultural techniques into an existing hunter-gatherer-fisher economy.


  1. My guess is that cattle domestication and most domestications go back much further than believed and indeed they have been pushed back many times before. Since they are already full-fledged in sophistication that would seem to be confirmed here. Presumably there would be thousands of years of domestication before signs of domestication showed up, especially in initially small populations/areas of use.

    I doubt the location can really be determined for sure from sketchy archaeological records any more than it can be for humans, so I don't appreciate the confident language the paper uses for making such a statement.

  2. Replies
    1. Because:

      1. You have no evidence, not even an indication.

      2. You seem to make many comments that are absurdly speculative: jokes and provocations. You also have a buffoon avatar, suggesting that you may be a comedic kind of troll or at the very least not a serious person. I'm considering banning you from comments for the sake of quality but admittedly you have not yet trespassed any red lines... yet.

    2. 1. You can't prove a negative. What I said follows from itself. That is, I am challenging the views put forward that say that domestication, advanced dairy techniques came all at once. It's a ludicrous proposition, and such propositions have been overturned many times.

      As I stated, which you seem unaware of, domestication times for many animals has been pushed back many times. Until recently it was believed camels were not domesticated until almost the time of christ. Until recently it was also believed horses were domesticated only in the iron age.

      You can see that from two seconds of googling. If you can't be bothered to do that then why bother to respond whatsoever?

      2. I've never posted anything inflammatory or trollsome on your blog. I don't like posting my face online due to my work. I like the avatar I have but I am a serious person, highly educated and relatively successful. You should concentrate on what people say, not your superficial observations. I doubt many people commenting on such stuff are even close to my league let alone someone who can casually dismiss my words out of hand without making a fool of themself.

      If you have some objection to something I say, instead of attacking me personally address the issue and we can discuss it like adults. This is the first you have ever challenged anything I say and you don't provide any reasoning or evidence against it, just say I am a troll.

      There's a giant assumption that everything we've found, is what exists. That assumption becomes weaker the further back in time you go. Did the yamnaya people somehow morph into modern people with lactose tolerance, or are these lactose tolerant r1b people already existing somewhere for a long time?

      If almost domestication only took place 6k years ago, then why were almonds found stored in caves in greece 13k years ago? This should be a giant red flag since wild almonds are highly poisonous.

      Neanderthals were supposed to be ambush hunters of big game, but they were not migratory and their bones showed signs of the same trauma that rodeo clowns receive over the years. They also had amazingly perfectly preserved teeth which also gives this sort of lifestyle the lie.

      There's a lot of big assumptions like these, especially out of africa, which seem to be there mainly for political reasons. Many of them are just an honest 'best guess' but I don't think that's the case with all of them. Especially steppe migration theory which is completely busted as far as I can tell, and out of africa which has zero archaeological support.

      At the time OOA is supposed to be happening we see levallois point technology move from europe into africa from europe....

    3. You are all the time making fringe claims with no evidence at all. And, as they say, exceptional claims require exceptional evidence - or at the very least some evidence.

      The date of posited Neolithic domestication is not anyhow 6 Ka ago but rather twice that date, at least 9-10 Ka. Naturally the dog was domesticated much earlier, but that's very solidly demonstrated. The only other cases I know of previous "domestication" claims are: (1) Ohalo II, which is not yet agriculture in any case but some sort of discontinued pre-farming gathering (the Mesolithic way) and (2) some speculations about possible domestication of horses in Magdalenian Europe, based only on some artwork, whose interpretation is very much open, but can suggest bridles on the horse heads. That's all and in all cases there is the evidence that there is.

      "If almost domestication only took place 6k years ago, then why were almonds found stored in caves in greece 13k years ago?"

      Not just almonds, other seeds were collected, such as acorns in North Africa (leading to a very striking caries problem). But that's not domestication, just recollection: the gathering part of "hunter-gathering".

      "This should be a giant red flag since wild almonds are highly poisonous".

      That's not true. The recessive variant of almonds can have cyanide and be potentially dangerous (but those are bitter, so easy to detect). Even bitter almonds can be prepared for food and medicinal uses, if you know how.

      As this example illustrates you are making extreme claims based on nothing. Why do I have to put up with that, really?

      And then you begin ranting about Neanderthals, Levallois and other unrelated things. Write your own blog and see how many people does care...

    4. Very well said.

      «based only on some artwork, whose interpretation is very much open, but can suggest bridles on the horse heads. That's all and in all cases there is the evidence that there is.»

      I do definitely agree. I have seen those arguments about the bridles. What intrigues me the most is that some people that make those comments are supposed to know a little about horses, at least more than the common joe, and yet they keep forgetting that those art examples probably are attempting to represent a mealy mouth and not a d*mn briddle... And looking at many primitive breeds and at Przewalki horses, that´s you see, a mealy mouth.

    5. By the way, you see the same detail in aurochs pre-historic art examples (both carvings and paintings!), like if they had a briddle, but no... That´s just a mealy mouth.

    6. I am personally favorable to the interpretation of the bridles in the triple head baton are actually bridles and not at all "meatly mouth", however I reckon that only one piece of evidence is feeble and highly questionable.

      But in pure theory horses could be ideal domesticates for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, enabling people to hunt in wider areas at low cost, particularly if they hunted horses or other herbivores of similar habits like bisons. This is what we saw among Native Americans after Spaniards re-introduced the horse, however in that case they had a model to imitate.

      The only other indication that could favor Magdalenian domestication of the horse is that North Iberia or somewhere nearby was indeed a second focus of horse domestication, according to both genetics and archaeology. But this support is circumstantial and the most favored explanation is that there was a separate domestication event in the Neolithic or early Chalcolithic instead.

    7. The baton:

      Even if the quality is low, the bridles seem evident to my eye.

    8. That picture is confusing, I need to copy and zoom it.

      I think that it depends on the place of the head where you see it.

      The reason why I wrote that comment, is mainly because some people have pointed out that the line that divides the mealy mouth part from the rest of the muzzle, is evidence of an horse bridle, which I find very sketchy and unclear.

      Some people considered this as evidence of bridle use and domestication:

      I don´t see it, hence my skepticism.
      But I don´t think that´s impossible, just unlikely.

      And I have read that´s estimated that horse domestication in Iberia happened about 6200 years ago. If this date is true, it´s the still the earliest known for this kind of happening. But who knows what the next findings will tell.

    9. I could not find (easily) a better quality one, try searching at Don's Maps (has a lot of good quality images). I just don't have the time for a patient search, sorry. I did found several other images of horseheads (all them portable sculptures) that also look a lot like having bridles in the cave of Isturtitz:

      Some are less clear, like the ones at your link (not arguing is better than a bad argumentation in some cases, right?), but others are very very striking. Scroll down to see them all.

    10. I found it:

      It's from Mas d'Azil and one of the heads seems defleshed, whatever it means it seems a common motif in that site for what Don says ( Looking at this better quality image, I think that only one of the three heads (left) is actually bridled. I could even imagine a possible "narrative" in those three heads: the horse I mount (left), the horse I hunt (bottom), the horse I killed (right). It's very likely the rear part of an atlatl, a weapon which may have been used to hunt horses mostly judging on the decoration (but also while riding them maybe).

    11. I only see it clearly here:

      One horse seems to have an halter.
      I hope this is not a later change done by some horse enthusiast. Some cave paintings have been changed by more recent hands (though I find it unlikely for this case, who knows).

  3. Interesting papers and its good to see some data showing additional evidence of dairying among the Funnelbeaker Culture. I haven't had time to read this second paper, but I am curious if the entire cattle population had this slaughter structure. If so, it would seem to indicate that dairy was primary and beef was secondary. That's pretty big news in my mind.

    This first paper I'm skeptical because of intentional back breeding with mixed bulls. I do think North Sea-Scottish and Greco-Italic Cattle have local auroch introgression based on their physical traits, although it could small. Thanks for posting.

    1. I agree.
      And what about Iberian cattle (?):

      And there are also Barrosã, Cachena, Iberian fighting cattle, etc...
      The influence of the aurochs in Iberian cattle, seems clear to me (both maternal and paternal).

      It seems more evident to me, as time and findings go on, that the bulk of taurine cattle origin in Europe is that from Middle Eastern and then minor influence from local aurochs (both bull and cow), being restricted to few regions. Probably more from the bull aurochs than the cow aurochs, because bulls could intentionally go after domestic cows (and that´s described to happen by historians) and many herds were kept free ranging during that time, so it surely happened. While cow aurochs, required a very tough work to get and successfully breed them. Bull aurochs influenced mainly breeds that are found in Atlantic countries (going until Iberia), but we may add few more in the future because European bull aurochs also had the so-called Middle Eastern Y-DNA. Regarding aurochs mtDNA it was found in modern cattle breeds in Iberia and Italy. Let´s see what the next findings will tell.

    2. That they are engineering a cattle breed resembling aurochs does not mean that the constituent breeds are necessarily closer to aurochs genetically. In fact I don't know of any evidence that shows that any particular breed is "more auroch" than others in any significant way.

  4. That board only shows a visual comparison between some primitive domestic breeds and the aurochs (cow and bull). The aurochs example was built based on fossils taken from Denmark and Sweden. The Iberian and Swiss aurochs were clearly smaller though still big, for example. There might have been room for more variation.

    No mention was done about their genetic proximity to the aurochs.

    Yes, there are no evidences that point to a certain breed as being significantly more aurochs alike than others.


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