MOTHER TONGUE
Newsletter of the Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory

Issue 26 · Spring 1996


First Dogs, Now Cows, What Next?

Some long rangers were amused at the dog genealogies in MT-25, but it was relevant. More lively information concerns the age of African cattle. Bos taurus or roughly the long-horned humpless kind split from west Eurasian bovines 22,000-27,000 years ago! And from Bos indicus or zebu cattle even earlier. So what? yawned a bored grammarian in Ann Arbor? Well, cattle are involved deeply in proto-Afra-sian, as well as proto-Nilo-Saharan, and all debates on African Neolithics. Dates on probable domestication differ; African Bos taurus circa 9000 BP and European circa 5000 Bp. Knowing that cattle did not come in with the Levantine Neolithic and knowing that cattle herding might be older than said agricultural revolution, we may learn something else, to put it mildly. (Source: Bradley et al, 1996. "Mitochondrial diversity and the origins of African and European cattle". PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES 93: 5131-5135). Thanks also to Alison Brooks for her personal communication and Ofer Bar-Yosef for a copy of the paper.

What next? We hear that someone has done the same for sheep, not yet published. They are interesting because of their solid ties to SWAsian Neolithic. Indeed Bradley et al deny that shoats (sheep & goats) are native to Africa and date their appearance in Africa to 6500-7700 BP or within the range for the arrival of Levantine crops. For those reckoning that wider distributions mean older things we put some African facts on the record: Widest (global) = lice. Next widest = dogs. Nearly as wide = goats + chickens. Less wide = sheep + donkeys. Almost as wide = cattle. Still less wide = fat-tailed sheep + Zebu cattle. Limited distributions = camels + horses + pigs (tame). Given the paucity of sheep and donkeys in the great forests, it seems that Bantu crossed the rain forest without them, later borrowing them from resident East Africans. Thence southward.

Just to rehearse this point -- we can see clearly that shoats came long before cattle in the Levant but cattle came long before shoats in Africa; in terms of domestication. It is very unlikely that the pastoral Neolithic (so-called) in Africa derives from the Levant. But the question of farming & crops from the Levant remains quite active.


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(c) 1996 Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory