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Ancient DNA confirms diverse origins of early post-Columbian cattle in the Americas

Nicolas Delsol, Brian J. Stucky, Jessica A. Oswald, Charles R. Cobb, Kitty F. Emery & Robert Guralnick


Before the arrival of Europeans, domestic cattle (Bos taurus) did not exist in the Americas, and most of our knowledge about how domestic bovines first arrived in the Western Hemisphere is based on historical documents. Sixteenth-century colonial accounts suggest that the first cattle were brought in small numbers from the southern Iberian Peninsula via the Canary archipelago to the Caribbean islands where they were bred locally and imported to other circum-Caribbean regions. Modern American heritage cattle genetics and limited ancient mtDNA data from archaeological colonial cattle suggest a more complex story of mixed ancestries from Europe and Africa. So far little information exists to understand the nature and timing of the arrival of these mixed-ancestry populations. In this study we combine ancient mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from a robust sample of some of the earliest archaeological specimens from Caribbean and Mesoamerican sites to clarify the origins and the dynamics of bovine introduction into the Americas. Our analyses support first arrival of cattle from diverse locales and potentially confirm the early arrival of African-sourced cattle in the Americas, followed by waves of later introductions from various sources over several centuries.