The ancient Egyptians believed the gentle mother of the earth was a cow. They are probably the first people to domesticate cattle. Scientists now say they have proof the eastern desert between the Red Sea and the Nile suddenly became gentle grasslands 12,000 years ago when the last Ice Age ended and humans began to herd the cattle instead of attacking them.
BBC news: The Eastern Sahara of Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Chad was home to nomadic people who followed rains that turned the desert into grassland.
When the landscape dried up about 7,000 years ago, there was a mass exodus to the Nile and other parts of Africa.
The close link between human settlement and climate has lessons for today, researchers report in Science.
"Even modern day conflicts such as Dafur are caused by environmental degradation as it has been in the past," Dr Stefan Kropelin of the University of Cologne, Germany, told the BBC News website.
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Africa is where really smart humanoids evolved. And the brainiest of all were homosapiens. We are a bloody species that eats nearly anything we want and kills each other with ruthless efficiency as we can clearly see today, it is all in the news, isn't it?
Humans and their kin who simply hunted animals soon found themselves in trouble if they couldn't roam about a very great deal: they ran out of game. Or the game evolved rapidly to avoid them, making hunting increasingly tricky. But some Africans figured out, if one uses dogs and sticks, one could exploit the natural tendency of herd animals to bunch together when in danger and then move away from danger. This rapidly evolved into 'herding' which meant, humans could move herds at will, wheverer they wanted.
And what did these bovines get out of all this?
Very simple: protection! Instead of cornering and killing all the bovines herded together, the humans selected only certain ones to kill and left the rest at peace. Why would this not bother the herds but cause them to enjoy the company of humans and dogs?
Normally, in nature, herds are constantly stalked by groups of predators. Hyenas and lions being the scariest. During the Ice Ages, lions ceased the solitary hunting all other cat species do and began group hunting. This became a very great problem for the bovines who, unlike the antelopes, for example, could hardly outrun a pride of stalking lions! So they bunched together and roared around in circles, the weaker cattle on the outside where the lions picked them off.
Along came humans. We fought the lions and taught them to be frightened of us. Using dogs as allies, the dogs would spot or smell the stalking lions and bark, alerting the humans who would spoil the stalking when screaming, stone throwing humans attacked the lions.
Cows have excellent eyesight. It used to amuse me, watching my own oxen observing the world with their big, brown eyes, chewing their cuds thoughtfully. It took time for them to make up their minds but once they did, they remained faithful to whatever ideas they had.
When they first met me, they thought only of intimidating me. Within hours, they decided that was a bad plan and if they wanted my bananas, they should watch closely and follow my hand signals and voice. Soon, they loved me and would low when they saw me far away and lumber over. When they were scared which was rare: mostly during lighting storms, they sought me out.
Early Africans had enough sensitivity and generosity to see, working with the needs of the herds meant the herds would allow them to be touched, even petted. Petting dogs was good practice for approaching these dangerous, horned animals. For a bull on a rampage is most dangerous.
This is why humans learned docking their balls tamed them. But it was the cows, the females that were the first to be herded. Dangerous bulls were culled by humans while the cows were left alone to breed. This is when breeding really first began! With the cows.
For it takes only one bull to make many calves. And early humans didn't want to let the violent, dangerous bulls create calves, they wanted friendly bulls hanging out with everyone and so, over the generations, the calves evolved to be gentler and gentler. But even today, bulls are dangerous. My oxen were sweet because they were no longer driven by the fury of sex. They just wanted to hang out with their favorite humans like my son or husband, not looking for cute females.
Bradley DG, MacHugh DE, Cunningham P, Loftus RT.
Department of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
The nature of domestic cattle origins in Africa are unclear as archaeological data are relatively sparse. The earliest domesticates were humpless, or Bos taurus, in morphology and may have shared a common origin with the ancestors of European cattle in the Near East. Alternatively, local strains of the wild ox, the aurochs, may have been adopted by peoples in either continent either before or after cultural influence from the Levant. This study examines mitochondrial DNA displacement loop sequence variation in 90 extant bovines drawn from Africa, Europe, and India. Phylogeny estimation and analysis of molecular variance verify that sequences cluster significantly into continental groups. The Indian Bos indicus samples are most markedly distinct from the others, which is indicative of a B. taurus nature for both European and African ancestors. When a calibration of sequence divergence is performed using comparisons with bison sequences and an estimate of 1 Myr since the Bison/Bos Leptobos common ancestor, estimates of 117-275,000 B.P. and 22-26,000 B.P. are obtained for the separation between Indians and others and between African and European ancestors, respectively. As cattle domestication is thought to have occurred approximately 10,000 B.P., these estimates suggest the domestication of genetically discrete aurochsen strains as the origins of each continental population. Additionally, patterns of variation that are indicative of population expansions (probably associated with the domestication process) are discernible in Africa and Europe. Notably, the genetic signatures of these expansions are clearly younger than the corresponding signature of African/European divergence.
Water buffalo in Africa are very dangerous. Most Victorian hunters considered them more dangerous than lions. When injured, a Cape Buffalo would literally hunt down the hunter to kill him. For some reason, water buffalo in Asia were less dangerous. Perhaps it was the derth of lions. Lions forced many grazing aminals to become very fierce or very swift. In Asia, tigers still hunt alone so there wasn't this push to form great herds as we see in Africa or in North America where wolves banded together to act like lions, too.
So, once the ability to tame cattle was mastered and knowledge of this spread out of Africa via the Middle East, Asians applied this same process to all forms of buffaloes including yaks, for example. There are virtually no wild cattle in Eurasia due to human activities including world wars.
Both the European wisent and the American buffalo have fared poorly at the hands of humankind. The growth of agriculture and other anthropomorphic activities in Europe hastened the wisent along the path to possible extinction at a far earlier date than did such developments threaten its American cousin. By the end of the Middle Ages the wisent's continued survival was in doubt. As early as 1400 the European bison no longer survived in France, it was driven to extinction in Austria and Hungary during the 1500s, and vanished from the Germanys in the 1700s. By the beginning of the twentieth century the largest remaining group of wild wisent, a herd of some seven hundred or so, were confined to the Bialowieza Forest in what is now northern Poland.
Due to uncontrolled poaching during World War I, the herd was completely exterminated by the war's end. Following the war it was estimated than only sixty purebred wisents existed in the entire world. In 1939, in the hopes of returning the European bison to its natural surroundings, sixteen wisent were returned to the Bialowieza Forest--only to be caught in the cross-fire of World War II. Due to the often-heroic efforts of Polish gamekeepers and the care given them by concerned Nazi and Stalinist officials, this small herd survived the war. Today, world-wide, over a thousand European bison still exist, over half of which live in the Bialowieza Forest--where Polish naturalists are attempting to transform these semi-domesticated animals into a herd of free-ranging wild wisent.
Our distant ancestors used the tools of evolution to create new ecosystems and species. This is the ultimate defining quality that sets us apart from all other simian species. They evolve, we make evolution. This is why the curious fury against understanding how evolution works is so stupid. Literally.
Smart humans used the forces of evolution. Stupid ones are pushed by evolution, off the cliff.
Oh, and one other thing: the great cave painters who made such lovely pictures of magnificent cattle and horses were intent on only hunting them to extinction. It was the Africans who figured out how to work with the cattle and thus, saved them from human destruction. Brilliance in one area doesn't mean superiority. Anyone who thinks they are better than anyone else are foolish.