|16 February 2010
Cattle and humans evolved side-by-side
A new early bull species shows that cattle and humans evolved side-by-side. The fossil skull is a missing link between modern cattle and their African ancestors. Although there is no evidence that early humans were actually herding early cattle 2.5 million years ago, the early humans and early cattle certainly shared the same landscape and beef was definitely on the menu all along, say researchers.
The telltale fossil is a skull with enormous horns that belongs to the cattle genus Bos. It has been reassembled from over a hundred shards found at a dig that also contains early human remains, said paleontologist Bienvenido Martinez-Navarro of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. "This means that the humans have been eating Bos since the beginnings of the genus Homo," said Martinez, referring to the genus to which humans belong.
The million-year-old skull of the new Bos species, dubbed Bos buiaensis, has features of both earlier and later forms of Bos, which make it essentially a missing link between more modern cow-like species found in Eurasia and the earlier African cattle ancestors found alongside hominids and dating back 2.5 million years. "The most important point is that this Bos connects the African Bos with Eurasian bulls," and so confirms the long, uninterrupted coexistence of humans and cattle from the earliest times, he said.
There are some researchers who might take issue with some of the details of the cattle family tree as Martinez and his colleagues have described it, but the overall conclusion seems sound, commented Sandra Olsen, curator of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. "One way or the other, hominids are associated with these creatures," Olsen said.
The distinctive horns of the new Bos also broach some other interesting matters, said Olsen. There is a tantalizing resemblance between the newfound Bos and depictions of bulls in ancient petroglyphs found in western Saudi Arabia - along the route once taken by humans out of Africa. The rock art shows exceptionally long-horned cattle being hunted by humans with bows, arrows and dogs, Olsen said. The petroglyphs are at least 5,000 years old, she said, but very hard to date exactly. "(The new Bos species) look so much like the pictures in Saudi Arabia," said Olsen, "which people have thought were exaggerations."
Source: Discovery News (9 February 2010)
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