A recent article published in Nature Communications suggests, sort of, that cattle may have been domesticated in China.
Herd of cattle in Yunnan Province, China. timquijano.
The story is a little odd. Two conjoined jawbones (mandibles) were identified as taurine (Bos taurus, the humpless cattle type thought to have been domesticated in the Taurus Mountains about 10,500 years ago) have been recovered from the Kongni ditch in northeastern China.
The mandibles are AMS radiocarbon dated between 10,756 and 10,565 years ago, and mitochondrial DNA studies of it suggest to the scholars that the beast had a distinct mitochondrial structure, distinct from other types of aurochs. It looks domesticated, based on the tooth wear. If the scholars are correct in their surmise that this is evidence of early taurine domestication in China, it might be pretty amazing news--but they come from a place called the "Kongni Ditch" without any additional description and that worries me, and I'm strongly reminded that context, if not everything, is a big hunk of the pie.
I've sent away for some more information about the context, and I'll report it if and when I hear back.
It may turn out that there's another cattle domestication center in China--heck, how would I know? and science as we know is a moving target--but at the moment, this is an outlier, so caution is in order.
- Read more about cattle domestication
- Context is Everything, an essay on why this is an important concept in archaeology.
Zhang H, Paijmans JLA, Chang F, Wu X, Chen G, Lei C, Yang X, Wei Z, Bradley DG, Orlando L et al. . 2013. Morphological and genetic evidence for early Holocene cattle management in northeastern China. Nature Communications 4:2755.