Monday, September 1, 2008

Goats key to spread of farming

According to French researchers, goats accompanied the earliest farmers into Europe some 7,500 years ago, helping to revolutionize the Stone Age Society. The trailblazing farm animals were hardy and highly mobile traveling companions to ancient travelers from the Middle East who introduced agriculture to Europe and elsewhere, researchers say.

Kiko goatsA team of archaelogists and biologists has traced the origins of domestic goats in Western Europe to the Middle East at the beginnings of the Neolithic period. The study is based on DNA analysis of goat bones from a Stone Age cave in France and suggests the animal spread across Europe quickly after their introduction.

The research follows up on a 2001 study by the same team that found domesticated goats today to be much more mixed genetically than other livestock, having almost the same level of genetic mixing as humans. Researchers found two goat lineages stemming from the Near East.

Goats would have been ideally suited companions for frontier farmers in Stone Age Europe, the researchers say, being hardy animals that can survive on minimal food, cope with extremes of temperature, and travel long distances. They follow you like a dog. Once these pioneer farmers decided to settle, reseachers add, they likely took sheep and cows from the surrounding area.

Read National Geographic News Article