Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not Just a Load of Old Bull

Scene from the lost tomb-chapel of Nebamun, exposed in the British Museum, scene showing the presentation of cattle to Nebamun, Inv.: BM EA 37976, Painted about 1350 BC (Link)

Egyptian Longhorn Cattle from the Elite Cemetery at HK6: 
Not Just a Load of Old Bull

Wim Van Neer
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels

Except from the paper, which describes cattle buried in the Egyptian Elite Cemetery HK6 in Hierakonpolis:

  "Traditionally the Sanga has been considered a cross breed between the humpless taurine cattle and the zebu; however, an alternative view sees it not as a cross breed, but rather as a direct descendant of locally domesticated African aurochs. This theory makes sense, especially since zebu cattle were only introduced into Africa in significant numbers by Arab traders from the 10th century AD onwards. The few ancient depictions of true zebu cattle always occur in the context of tribute from Syria and it is unlikely that this cattle type could have made a large impact back then. Most of the humped cattle depicted in Dynastic scenes have only a small protuberance and are missing the dewlap typical of true zebu."
   "Other characteristics shared by the ancient images and Sanga cattle are the rather long and slender horns on the males, and long and slender limb bones for both sexes. The skull of the bull from Tomb 43 is too poorly preserved to observe the horn size and shape. However, the measurements of its long bones and those of the cow confirm that they both have slender extremities.  The specimens from HK6 can therefore be considered as likely descendants of the African aurochs and in turn the ancestors of the Egyptian Longhorn cattle on the later tomb walls."


  1. It's very interesting, however the theory proposed in the previous entry, by which there would have been an independent domestication of cattle in Egypt, would be on safer ground in genetic analysis would have been performed. Hopefully we will read about that soon.

  2. I haven't seen any ancient DNA studies on African cattle. I'm sure if the authors of this paper, at Leuven, a hotspot for genetic research, could have sequenced the DNA from the cattle at HK6, they would have. Either the paper is not yet out, or the DNA was not recoverable.

    By the way, the term Sanga cattle is used in this paper. That's a confusing term. A clearer term is "humpless longhorn" as described by Roger Blench:

    According to Blench, humpless longhorn breeds are the N'dama and Kuri. He does not mention the "Sanga" as a humpless longhorn breed.

    Two breeds of African cattle are mentioned in the paper "Genome Wide Survey of SNP Variation Uncovers Genetic Structure of Cattle Breeds."

    The African breeds sampled in this study are the N'dama humpless longhorn breed and the Sheko shorthorn breed.

    See Admixture and pricipal component graphs:

    The N'dama humpless longhorn breed is clearly a standout.

    I'll be expanding upon why the N'dama longhorn was likely domesticated on the Nile and why today it survives only in Senegal and Gambia.


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