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Genetic clues from modern-day cattle populations across Africa suggest a complicated history of cattle herding in the continent, according to a new study.

Olivier Hanotte from the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya and colleagues did a genetic survey of fifty cattle populations across the continent and concluded that the earliest herded cattle originated within Africa, followed by waves of cattle introduced from the Near East and Europe.

Their results — published in the 12 April issue of Science — contradict archaeologists’ long-held theory that humans only domesticated cattle in Near East Asia.

The new data indicate that Asian cattle were introduced through the eastern coast of Africa, rather than through a Near East route, and intermingled with native herds in two distinct phases. The genetic evidence also suggests that cattle followed an eastern, rather than western, route during their migration into southern Africa.

Reference: Science 296, 336 (2002)

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