January 10, 2016

Goat domestication took place in the Zagros


Genetic data seems to support the archaeological notion of domestication of the goat (also appliable to several other animals) in the Zagros mountains, roughly what we now call Kurdistan.

L. Colli, K. Lancioni et al., Whole mitochondrial genomes unveil the impact of domestication on goat matrilineal variability. BMC Genomics 2015. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1186/s12864-015-2342-2]



The current extensive use of the domestic goat (Capra hircus) is the result of its medium size and high adaptability as multiple breeds. The extent to which its genetic variability was influenced by early domestication practices is largely unknown. A common standard by which to analyze maternally-inherited variability of livestock species is through complete sequencing of the entire mitogenome (mitochondrial DNA, mtDNA).


We present the first extensive survey of goat mitogenomic variability based on 84 complete sequences selected from an initial collection of 758 samples that represent 60 different breeds of C. hircus, as well as its wild sister species, bezoar (Capra aegagrus) from Iran. Our phylogenetic analyses dated the most recent common ancestor of C. hircus to ~460,000 years (ka) ago and identified five distinctive domestic haplogroups (A, B1, C1a, D1 and G). More than 90 % of goats examined were in haplogroup A. These domestic lineages are predominantly nested within C. aegagrus branches, diverged concomitantly at the interface between the Epipaleolithic and early Neolithic periods, and underwent a dramatic expansion starting from ~12–10 ka ago.


Domestic goat mitogenomes descended from a small number of founding haplotypes that underwent domestication after surviving the last glacial maximum in the Near Eastern refuges. All modern haplotypes A probably descended from a single (or at most a few closely related) female C. aegagrus. Zooarchaelogical data indicate that domestication first occurred in Southeastern Anatolia. Goats accompanying the first Neolithic migration waves into the Mediterranean were already characterized by two ancestral A and C variants. The ancient separation of the C branch (~130 ka ago) suggests a genetically distinct population that could have been involved in a second event of domestication. The novel diagnostic mutational motifs defined here, which distinguish wild and domestic haplogroups, could be used to understand phylogenetic relationships among modern breeds and ancient remains and to evaluate whether selection differentially affected mitochondrial genome variants during the development of economically important breeds.

Fig. 4
Spatial frequency distributions of goat mtDNA haplogroups in different geographic areas based on different datasets: modern breeds (C. hircus) a ; wild goats (C. aegagrus) b; and ancient goat remains c. See Additional file 2 (Table S5) for more information

Notice that the term "Southeastern Anatolia" is clearly being used in the Turkish imperialist ideological frame and actually must be read as Northern Kurdistan, not at all in the Anatolian Peninsula but rather Upper Mesopotamia.


  1. Thanks for this blog piece... Although I am afraid I can't see how you came to the conclusion stated in the title.

    Available evidence point to earliest goat domestication in SE Turkey, supported by both genetics and archaeology, and possibly also in W Central Iran, as suggested by genetics (you can substitute whatever parts of Kurdistan are relevant in your terminology for the country names). The authors wrote:

    "The haplogroup A is largely predominant (>90 %) among domestic goats, but rare (6 %) in the bezoar and never observed in the Iranian Zagros Mountains. The probable origin of haplogroup A occurred in Eastern Anatolia, where it is still present among wild populations, and its presence in Eastern Iran probably is the result of a subsequent feralization of domestic goats."

    "These findings indicate that the process of goat domestication occurred not only in Eastern Anatolia, as marked by haplogroup A and supported by zooarchaeological data [5, 8], but possibly also in Central Iran (Zagros Mountains and Iranian Plateau)."

    Therefore, the title would be considered accurate only if you - at your fancy - have redefined the Zagros Range (see for example http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/157205/) to include a much larger geographical region, ranging from central Turkey to deep into southern Iran.

    1. Hi, CC. Nice to see you around.

      "Eastern Anatolia" in Turkish official terminology is very similar, along with the so-called "SE Anatolia" region, to the part of Kurdistan under Turkish control. All Early Neolithic sites in that formal region are located in Kurdistan (→ map). So it would not be Central Turkey by any means.

      However you are probably right that I am restricting too much the region by using the term "Zagros". This is because I'm old enough to have studied first the Fertile Crescent Neolithic as having two main areas: one centered in Palestine and the other in the Zagros (Jarmo particularly), so I tend to group all the mountain region by that name. Jarmo is also well known for its very old first animal domesticate remains, the oldest in many cases (at least by old books, would have to check for reviews), including the goat and the sheep and not sure if the pig as well (the cow seems from Anatolia proper instead but it's also a later development if I'm correct). So I basically thought: well, OK, Jarmo and the wider region confirmed as origin of goats, that was my idea...

      I'm trying to confirm where the Zagros conventionally end in the north and northwest and Wikipedia doesn't help really: it says that it largely defines the Western border of Iran and that they end at the Strait of Hormuz but as for the northern ending no precision whatsoever. This map shows the Zagros Fold turning West in Kurdistan and ending near the Mediterranean at the Turco-Syrian border.

      If I'd have to give you the reason (unsure), I would have to change "Zagros" by "Kurdistan" (see first paragraph) but I did not mean to be so precise, because maybe a site or two fall into Assyrian or other ethnic areas (unsure without a throughout checking). So by the moment I'm keeping it as it is but feel free to correct me further if my reasoning does not persuade you.

  2. Maju, off topic or not so much.

    While back we talked about the Connection Caucasus and Iberia… I narrow it down to Shulaveri Shomu (Caucasus) and Perdigões (Iberia)… Wanna bet? 

    See this post I made (in English) - barradeferro.blogs.sapo.pt/of-shulaveri-shomu-and-r1bs-and-34071

    Have fun (with links and all!)…

    1. The only coincidental element is that we're talking of three children buried. They are buried in pits? That's the most common way to bury people through the world, so? They are in crouched or fetal position? That's typical of mainline European Neolithic and maybe imported from West Asia (although crouched burials also exist in Magdalenian contexts anyhow).

      MtDNA U4 and U5 are claimed to be "from the steppe" but that's utter nonsense: both lineages are documented in Epipaleolithic Portugal (and probably also in Taforalt, Morocco). U5 is documented through all of late Paleolithic Europe, being the most common Paleoeuropean lineage by far.

      See: http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/p/ancient-mtdna-maps-of-europe.html

    2. @Olympus: sorry but I accidentally deleted your comment again. It said:

      Maju see my commnent there. I think I made very valid points... Can I use my rebuttal in a POst there using your comments? Or that is not propper?

      This is because when I get the email, I have three options one after the other: "publish", "delete" & "spam" (in this order) and they are not really separated, nor you get any confirmation request either. I hate it, really, and I apologize for it.


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