Donkey Domestication Occurred 7,000 Years Ago
Recent genomic research provides fresh insight into donkey husbandry.
Just as donkeys are utilized now, in distant past, donkeys were common beast of burden that are frequently used to haul products across great distances. A group of geneticists have pinpointed just how ancient donkeys are. The team discovered a domestication event in East Africa that dates to about 5,000 BCE, somewhat earlier than the first archaeological evidence of domesticated donkeys, by studying 238 donkey genomes, 31 of which belonged to ancient donkeys. Their study was only just published in the journal Science1.
The most likely origin is in northeast Africa, whether from Sudan, Egypt, or perhaps even farther south in the Horn of Africa. The researchers also discovered a previously undiscovered donkey lineage in the Levant that before 2,200 years ago, as well as distinct donkey distribution patterns between western Africa and Europe that date back to Roman times.
Three jennies (female donkeys) and six jacks (male donkeys) from Roman France were among the more than 200 donkey genomes they examined. The location, which is believed to have existed between 200 and 500 CE, may have served as a breeding place for giant donkeys, another lineage lost to us. The authors speculate that the location may have simply been one of many that served to meet the demand for donkeys throughout the Roman Empire.
More archaeological investigation will be required, the team believes, in order to pinpoint the donkey's exact origin. Material culture evidence of donkey domestication may be found in new digs.
Another team published information regarding the genetic background of the horse and its domestication in East Asia last year2; the most recent research may provide additional information about the two animals' genetic backgrounds as well as the locations of their genetic overlap. Another study earlier this year provided proof that the kunga, a donkey-wild ass hybrid, was the oldest animal domesticated by humans.
I believes that the most recent study may be able to shed light on the origins of the mule, the infertile progeny of male donkeys and female horses, while hinnies are the children of male horses and female donkeys. Understanding the domenstication of these equines may now be undertaken by examining DNA, both ancient and curren. When combined, the genetic and archaeological data can convey a complete domestication tale that includes not just the story of humankind but also the story of donkeys.
Todd, E. T., Tonasso-Calvière, L., Chauvey, L., Schiavinato, S., Fages, A., Seguin-Orlando, A., Clavel, P., Khan, N., Pérez Pardal, L., Patterson Rosa, L., Librado, P., Ringbauer, H., Verdugo, M., Southon, J., Aury, J.-M., Perdereau, A., Vila, E., Marzullo, M., Prato, O., … Orlando, L. (2022). The genomic history and global expansion of domestic donkeys. Science (New York, N.Y.), 377(6611), 1172–1180. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abo3503
Librado, P., Khan, N., Fages, A. et al. The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes. Nature 598, 634–640 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04018-9