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First yak domesticated 2,500 years ago

  • Published
    15th Dec, 2023
Context

The oldest record ever of a yak being domesticated by humans has been found in Bangga, a settlement in the Shannan prefecture of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China. 

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  • Around 2,500 years ago, inhabitants of Bangga, situated along the Yarlung-Tsangpo (known as the Brahmaputra in Tibet), domesticated taurine cattle alongside yaks.
  • Most European and temperate Asian cattle breeds are taurine, distinct from the humped Zebu breeds native to the Indian subcontinent.
  • The residents of Bangga also practiced hybridization by crossing yaks and cattle, both categorized under the genus Bos.
  • The settlement, located at an altitude of approximately 3,750 meters, is one of the earliest agro-pastoral sites in the southern Tibetan Plateau, yielding abundant animal fossils in recent excavations.
  • The researchers, including archaeologists from Washington University, analyzed over 10,000 mammal bone fragments from Bangga, identifying 193 belonging to the genus Bos.
  • Genetic analysis revealed that four well-preserved bones came from female taurine cattle, and one from a male yak. The presence of taurine cattle near the Indian subcontinent surprised researchers, suggesting their migration to central and eastern Tibet possibly via the Silk Route and northern Tibet from Anatolia (modern-day Turkey).
  • Today, domestic yaks number around 14 to 15 million in the highlands of Asia, with wild yaks listed as "vulnerable" by conservation organizations.
  • Communities in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau also utilize hybrids like Dzo and Dzomo, produced by crossing cattle and yaks.
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