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2 August 2010
Donkey ancestors helped pastoral peoples survive desert life

The National Science Foundation (USA) has been funding investigations into the history of animal domestication in North Africa. Evidence has been found of the domestication of donkeys from as long ago as 3,000 BCE. The genetic family tree of the domestic donkey has been pieced together using evidence from living animals, skeletons housed in museums and bones found from archaeological sites. From this evidence it was established that the ancestor of the modern domestic donkey was the Africal wild ass.
     Contrary to popular modern belief that the donkey is the poor man's horse, the donkey was absolutely vital for survival in the harsh climate of the North African deserts of the Sahara, Sudan and Eriteria, by transporting water & goods and for establishing trade routes.
     Connie J Mulligan, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida and associate director of the UF Genetics Institute, is quoted as saying "The domestication of a wild animal was quite an intellectual breakthrough and we have provided solid evidence that donkey domestication happened first in Northern Africa and happened there more than once". The study of the genetics of donkeys may seem an unusual subject for study but the start of animal domestication in an area helps archaeologists understand how and why certain cultures were more successful than others.
     An interesting spin-off from this research has been the belief that survivors may be found of a Nubian subspecies, which it had been thought had died out at the end of the last century. If this is true then this strain could be bred and help to maintain the generic variation which is vital for the health of the species.

Source: EurekaAlert! (28 July 2010)

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