The origin of European cattle: Evidence from modern and ancient DNA

Albano Beja-Pereira, David Caramelli, Carles Lalueza-Fox, Cristiano Vernesi, Nuno Ferrand, Antonella Casoli, Felix Goyache, Luis J. Royo, Serena Conti, Martina Lari, Andrea Martini, Lahousine Ouragh, Ayed Magid, Abdulkarim Atash, Attila Zsolnai, Paolo Boscato, Costas Triantaphylidis, Konstantoula Ploumi, Luca Sineo, Francesco MallegniPierre Taberlet, Georg Erhardt, Lourdes Sampietro, Jaume Bertranpetit, Guido Barbujani, Gordon Luikart, Giorgio Bertorelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

268 Scopus citations


Cattle domestication from wild aurochsen was among the most important innovations during the Neolithic agricultural revolution. The available genetic and archaeological evidence points to at least two major sites of domestication in India and in the Near East, where zebu and the taurine breeds would have emerged independently. Under this hypothesis, all present-day European breeds would be descended from cattle domesticated in the Near East and subsequently spread during the diffusion of herding and farming lifestyles. We present here previously undescribed genetic evidence in contrast with this view, based on mtDNA sequences from five Italian aurochsen dated between 7,000 and 17,000 years B.P. and >1,000 modern cattle from 51 breeds. Our data are compatible with local domestication events in Europe and support at least some levels of introgression from the aurochs in Italy. The distribution of genetic variation in modern cattle suggest also that different south European breeds were affected by introductions from northern Africa. If so, the European cattle may represent a more variable and valuable genetic resource than previously realized, and previous simple hypotheses regarding the domestication process and the diffusion of selected breeds should be revised.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8113-8118
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - May 23 2006


  • Aurochs
  • Domestication
  • Europe
  • mtDNA


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