Friday, June 15, 2012

Reconsidering the Spread of mtDNA T1 Cattle

Origin and Spread of Bos taurus:
New Clues from Mitochondrial Genomes Belonging to Haplogroup T1

Bonfiglio et al

I've been looking at this paper over the last week, since I first came across it at the forwhattherewereweare blog.  The sequencing in this paper is impressive in the number of samples analyzed and the granularity of the sequencing conducted.  The authors posit that the distribution of type T1 mtDNA cattle shows a spread from the Near East with domestication.

Without commenting immediately on this conclusion, I will mention that the authors construct from their T1 data an evolutionary tree shown in Figure 1, below.  This tree is complete with geographic position of breed and time estimates obtained using maximum likelihood statistics (Table 3).

There is a slight unexplained mismatch between the time estimates labelled on Figure 1 and those in Table 3, which unfortunately places the time estimates into question.  Additionally, there are some researchers (See "Pylogenetic analysis", Lari et al (Link)) that question the current classification system for bovid sub-clades.   Therefore, the data shown in Figure 1 need to be examined with these limitations in mind. 

However, the overall distribution of the T1 clades is very interesting with respect to the history of both African and Italian cattle.

Figure 1.  Tree of Complete Bovine mtDNA Sequences Belonging to Haplogroup T1.

Looking at the distribution for T1 cattle shown in Figure 1, it might be tempting to conclude, due to the many European samples of T1, that T1 carrying cattle must have reached Europe from the Near East by way of a northern route.  However, a closer examination of the locations of the European samples reveals an alternate possibility.  (See below, List of T1 European Cattle).  Most of the European samples in the T1a and T1b haplogroups are for Italian cattle.  The small number of European samples in the T1c haplogroup are either Italian or Portuguese, with one outlier for a Friesian cattle sample. This distribution for T1 cattle opens the possibility that the Italian T1 cattle arrived in Italy by crossing the Strait of Sicily at an early date from North Africa.  Also possible is an Italian origin for T haplogroup cattle.

At first, it might seem very implausible that this could be the case.  However, it is known that the Mediterranean sea level was more than 100 meters lower than today during the Last Glacial Maximum (Link).  Even 10 kya (kilo years ago), the crossing was less than 40km wide.  A recent dating of auroch drawings in Qurta, Egypt show that cattle were present there prior to 15,000 kya. Rock art experts note the similarity in style of the Qurta drawings to the rock art in Southern Italy, Sicily and Cyrenaica near the coast of northern Libya (Link).

If there was a crossing of mtDNA T cattle at the Strait of Sicily, the earliest crossings may have occured at a date prior to 11,450 kya, for there are samples of T type mtDNA auroch remains at Vado all'Arancio in Italy dated to this time. (Link)

It should be pointed out that with the exception of the above mentioned Italian and Portuguese cattle, the distribution of the T1b, T1c, and T1d cattle samples shown in Figure 1 point to a Northeast Africa origin for T1 type mtDNA cattle.

The branching of T1 cattle from that of other T cattle is dated, by maximum likelihood statistics, to approximately 12.5 plus or minus 2.3 kya.  That's a wide window, which makes it difficult to determine exactly when the ancestors of mtDNA T1 cattle might have arrived in northwest Africa.  (The branching of mtDNA T from the QT branch is dated to approximately 48kya (Link), with very few of the Q lineages of cattle showing up in Africa.)

More research is needed to verify and time the branchings of the T1 mtDNA sub-clade from T1'2'3, T and QT mtDNA cattle lineages.

However, the possibility that T1 carrying cattle crossed the Strait of Sicily prior to a significant sea level rise is plausible, as is genetic evidence for the survival of mtDNA T cattle lineages who's ancestors lived in North Africa more than 11,000 years ago.

Update (June 16th, 2012):

Morpho-Structure and Paleogeogeography of the Sicily Channel (Link) maps the Strait of Sicily.  The paper contains a map that can be  clicked into and then "zoomed".

List of T1 European Cattle
Figure 1, mtDNA T1a cattle: 
Origin of European Cattle in this group are:
1 - Agerolese - Agerola, southern Italy
2 - Chianina – Chiana Valley – central Italy – draught animal
3 - Maremmana - west central Italy
4 - Italian Podolian - Italy
5 - Marchigiana - cross of Podolian, Romagnola, Chianina – Italy
6 - Italian Brown - Italy
7 - Chianina – Chiana Valley – central Italy – draught animal
8 - Romagnola  - Italy
10 - Angus mix
11 - Chihuahua Creole - Mexico
13 - Marchigiana - cross of Podolian, Romagnola, Chianina – Italy
14 - Cinisara – Cinisi, Sicily
15 - Cinisara – Cinisi, Sicily
16 - Agerolese - Agerola, southern Italy
17 - Chianina – Chiana Valley – central Italy – draught animal
18 - Limousin - Southern France
19 - Maremmana - west central Italy
20 - Chianina – Chiana Valley – central Italy – draught animal
21 - Chianina – Chiana Valley – central Italy – draught animal
22 - Italian Podolian - Italy
23 - Romagnola - Italy
24 - Maremmana - west central Italy
25 - Chianina – Chiana Valley – central Italy – draught animal
28 - Marchigiana - cross of Podolian, Romagnola, Chianina – Italy

Figure 1, mtDNA T1b cattle
Origin of European cattle in this group are:
29 – Cinisara – Cinisi, Sicily
30 – Marchigiana - cross of Podolian, Romagnola, Chianina – Italy
31 – Cinisara - Cinisi, Sicily 
35 – Chianina – Chiana Valley – central Italy – draught animal
36 – Marchigiana - cross of Podolian Romagnola, Chianina - Italy

Figure 1, mtDNA T1c cattle
Origin of European cattle in this group are: 
44 – Cinisara - Cinisi, Sicily
46 – Friesian - Dutch
47 – Alentejana - Portugal
48 – Alentejana - Portugal
51 – Romagnola - Italy


  1. Forget about lower sea levels, not only the Strait of Sicilia was always very wide (40 km is three times Gibraltar or Dover today) but by the time cattle was domesticated see levels were like modern ones.

    A big problem is that we are not considering the actual spread of T1 in Europe or in general. Beja-Pereira 2006 offers that datum (fig. 2) and shows that T1 is most common in Iberia of all Europe, while in Italy, in spite of being oversampled here, is only a small fraction. T1 is also found at low levels in Greece and West Asia but not at noticeable levels in mainland Europe.

    Beja-Pereira proposes transmediterranean routes but the main one would be in the West (logically because the Iberian Neolithic is the one most clearly influenced by North African Neolithic and also the strait is quite narrower).

    But the sampling strategy of this paper is not good for Europe, although it does seem good for Africa. So I would not reach to any conclusion on how T1 cattle arrived to Europe unless the Iberian, Greek and West Asian branches are also examined.

    IF the arrival to Italy was from Tunisia or otherwise across the Mediterranean, I would not think acceptable pre-Neolithic dates for it: it must have been transported in rather advanced human-made ships. But it's also possible that T1 back-migrated from Africa to West Asia in pre-Neolithic or early Neolithic times and that, from West Asia and Greece, T1 cows arrived to Italy mostly by walking.

    1. I agree that T1 carrying cattle could also have crossed at Gibraltar. I looked at this in a post I did called "The Mediterranean Coastline During the Last Glacial Maximum". The eustatic sea level data is not yet reliable enough to know if and for how long Gibraltar and the Strait of Sicily may have been passable on foot or by way of a small boat. One of the differences between Gibraltar and the Strait of Sicily is water turbulence. The Strait of Sicily was probably an easier, less turbulent crossing for a longer time.

      While I agree with you that people and cattle very likely did cross at Gibraltar, one way or another, I don't have on hand a paper which mentions DNA analysis of ancient aurochs in Spain. Therefore, I can't date the the presence of T type cattle in Spain. If you know of an ancient DNA paper for T type Spanish cattle, by all means, let me know.

      Regarding T1 cattle in Greece, dates would be important. A low sea level would also mean an easier crossing from Italy to Greece, either by way of a route between Sicily and Othonoi, or around a much smaller Adriatic. I discuss this also in my Mediterranean Coastline post.

      I agree that the sampling strategy of this Bonfiglio paper for Europe is not good. I would also note that apart from Egypt and Ethiopia, the sampling strategy for Africa is poor.

      Again, I'm not going to suggest dates as pre or post Neolithic for these cattle. The data just isn't there yet.

    2. Neither strait can be walked through (not even in the Ice Age). However Gibraltar was and is easy to cross with limited means in good weather, while the Sicily Strait was effectively impossible (most probably) before Neolithic navigation. Cows could not possible cross either strait, nor the Strait of Otranto either without human help, what forces that T1 cows arrived to Italy and Iberia must be of Neolithic age or later (otherwise we would expect them to have left genetic legacy in the Balcans and France at least).

      However the poor sampling strategy of this paper does not help clarifying much. It'd be much more useful if some West Asian and NW African cattle (at the very least) would have been included, that would help to explain African-European connections and their timelines.

      There is some possibility that T1a walked to Italy in the pre-Neolithic period but then how do we explain the Ethiopian individual? A fascist-era import?

      "Again, I'm not going to suggest dates as pre or post Neolithic for these cattle. The data just isn't there yet".


    3. "Sicily Strait was effectively impossible (most probably) before Neolithic navigation."

      40km is at the edge of visibility over the horizon, so you wouldn't need navigation. For much of the LGM, the distance across the Strait of Sicily was quite a bit less than 40km.

      We know that the crossing, with animals, was made to Cyprus at the very beginning of the Neolithic, so I don't agree that "Neolithic navigation" was needed to make the Strait of Sicily crossing. Not at all.

      As to the movement of cattle, they may only have moved calves.

      I'm not trying to say that the path between Europe and Africa wasn't Gibraltar. But it could also very easily be by way of Sicily.

      Another thing to note in this discussion is that cattle can swim. I'm not sure how far, but they are pretty good swimmers:

      We know that beautifully designed pirogue boats were built in North Africa and on the tributaries of lake Chad in the early Neolithic. On a calm day, these boats could easily have made the Strait of Sicily crossing in a single day.

      Regarding the boating capabilities of preNeolithic peoples, it might be helpful to look at the boating capabilities of the Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island: they regularly made crossings of over 30 miles (50km). The Haida made crossings between Haida Gwaii and the BC Coast, a distance of 50km. The Chumash made the crossing from the California Channel Islands to the California coast, distance of 25km. There's reason to believe that these trips were made regularly. In the case of the Chumash, they think this boating culture had been in existance since 12,000 years ago, so its not Neolithic in any sense.

    4. Thanks for the link to the 2006 Beja-Pereira paper. Interestingly, one of the central observations of this paper is this:

      "The presence of T1 mainly along the Mediterranean shores of Europe (near Africa), but not in central and northern Europe, is suggestive of the occasional introduction of cattle by boat from North Africa into southern Europe and is difficult to reconcile with any gene flow process unrelated with the sea. But when did this process occur? The presence of T1 haplotypes previously observed in Portugal was attributed to historical migration due to North African, possibly Moorish, conquerors (19). However, even if 63 and 11 different T1 haplotypes are observed in Africa and Europe, respectively, only two of them are present in both regions. In addition, (i) T1 haplotypes can be found well beyond the area of maximum Moorish expansion, (ii) recent introductions of exotic cattle are usually male mediated (not affecting mtDNA) (34), and (iii) one T1 haplotype has been recently observed in a sample of 16 Bronze Age cattle remains from Spain. So, the hypothesis of a recent and geographically restricted introduction of African cattle does not seem sufficient to explain the T1 distribution in Europe. On the contrary, DNA data are compatible with earlier gene flow into several Mediterranean regions. There is evidence of early diffusion of cattle pastoralism by people crossing arms of sea (21–23), and, hence, the same process may have led to the dispersal in Europe of breeds carrying the T1 haplotype."

  2. To rephrase Maju's point about pre-Neolithic v. post-Neolithic dates, and assuming that boats big enough to carry the weight of a few aurochs that could cross 40km straights were available and in use at the time there is a still a big problem.

    A large wild animal is much less manageable to carry on a boat than a large domesticated animal. Compare, for example, the why an unbroken horse in a rodeo acts (but much worse) to the way a broken horse acts. Pre-animal sedative, you need a really robust boat to carry a 1000 kg wild animal without drowning everyone involved, and I can't think of any known examples of boat moderated migration of large wild animals to islands in the Upper Paloelithic. Dingos didn't even arrive in Australia until tens of thousands of years after humans did and they are tiny and tame compared to wild aurochs. There weren't even any wild aurochs historically in Upper Paleolithic Crete. The wildest live cargos of the food producing Austronesians were domesticated live pigs (and pigs can stay pretty small for the first few months, while even baby cows get very big very fast).

    While the indirect evidence for modern human deep sea boating is pretty good, nobody seriously suggests that those boats were as robust as, for example, Bronze Age boats in Greece or Egypt. The kinds of deep water boats that existed in the Upper Paleolithic would probably have been poor choices for transporting rambuctous wild cows. It would be like trying to cross a lake carrying a wild horse with a canoe or a kayak.

    1. The Zeder date for the introduction of cattle to Cyprus is 10.5 kya. That would have required moving cattle across at least 40km of water. (See "Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, diffusion and impact", Melinda A. Zeder, 2008.

    2. The horizon at sea level for a typical European man measuring 1.75 m is 4.72 km., not at all anything near 40! You can see across the Strait of Gibraltar because there are important hills near the coast, what really expands the horizon a lot. However the approx. formula is:

      d = 3.57 x sqr(h)

      ... where h (height) is in meters and d (distance of the true horizon) in kilometers [sqr = square root, could not find the symbol].

      "Pre-animal sedative"...

      There were always sedatives, opium at the very least is known since at least the Danubian Neolithic times. I reckon that transporting cattle is problematic but it was done as a matter of archaeological and genetic fact.

      "you need a really robust boat to carry a 1000 kg wild animal without drowning everyone involved"

      You can transport calves as well. They eventually grow up and become fully reproducing animals. Whatever the case is the only option: the cows won't swim those distances in the open sea.

    3. Regarding how far you can see over the horizon, I was assuming some topography.

      It's true that for a six foot tall person, they can only see about 5 km over the ocean, to the horizon.

      But, with just a little topography, you can see much farther. For example, there are three small islands off the coast of San Francisco, the Farallon islands, that are 43km from the shore. Their highest point is 109 meters. Standing on the beach and looking out across the Pacific, I can easily see the Farallons on a clear day, and not just their peak. Here's a picture, taken from Grandview Heights, which is about 100 to 200 meters ASL, looking west:

      Farallons are on the horizon, on the left.

      I agree about calves.

    4. U.S. Navy and Marine planners usually figure something on the order of 32 statute miles (i.e. about 50 km) when estimating how far away from shore a U.S. Navy ship has to be in order to be "over the horizon", which assumes a certain amount of height on the ship and a certain amount of hilliness on the shore.

    5. Thanks, Andrew. That's interesting. By the way, you only need height on the opposite side. You can be lying down on a beach and still see the mast of a ship, say 20 meters high, coming over the horizon from about 15km away.

  3. I finally found a reasonable sea depth map of the Strait of Sicily:

    Looking at the bathymetric chart available in this paper, at the peak of the LGM and probably for about five thousand years after that, the crossing of the Strait of Sicily could probably have been made in a series of island hops, each of not more than 10km.

    1. The map is not too good because it does not provide scales but I take as granted (from other maps) that the Avventura Plateau was above sea level at least in the LGM.

      Still the remaining distance is half of a latitude degree and that's like 40 km (not 10!!)

      The current width of the Strait of Sicily is 140 km (not 40 as you said before).

    2. Yes, I agree that it is unfortunate that the map doesn't have a distance scale. However, I created one for myself by measuring off of various geographic features and comparing against a map with a distance scale.

      If you look closely, you can see that there are a series of underwater peaks that at the LGM would have been islands. I think my estimate of 10km is a bit conservative, by the way. It was probably less.


      No peaks. Or to be more precise they are under LGM sea levels by all accounts.

      Whatever the case, cows would not swim even a single kilometer in the sea: they are, you know, cows!

    4. There are several points on both the Tunisian side and the Sicilian side above 100m. As well, the island of Pantelleria's highest point is 836m, which could have provided an important waypoint for Strait of Sicily crossings. In any case, the position of these underwater peaks, as shown in the above reference, would indicate that not much topology was needed to island hop between islands space not more than 10km apart.

    5. Apart from a possible crossing off the Avventura Plateau, there might have been one from the Maltese Platform. See bottom right of the map which I've now linked as an update in this post. I can't fully tell if there was a crossing from the Maltese Plateau, because the map does not fully show the shelf off the north coast of Africa.

    6. The sea crossings are wider at Malta. But it doesn't matter: the cows won't cross even 10 km without a ship.

    7. More swimming cow videos:

      Cattle swimming across the Colorado River:

      Swimming cows in the Amazon:

      Cows probably won't swim 10km, but 5km definitely seems to be within the range of possibility.

    8. Don't forget that the videos are of domesticated cows who have had hundreds of generations to learn to trust their human masters rather than their own instincts. Even if the people can see the horizon, the cows neck deep in the sea can't.

    9. Maju already scolded me for mentioning the swimming capabilities of moose and caribou, but I will say that moose have superb swimming capabilities. I've seen them myself swimming across lakes, and a quick Google search turned up the fact that moose swim across the St. Lawrence river, a distance of 16 miles (25 km). And yes, I know that cattle and aurochs are not moose, but most undulates appear to have superior swimming instincts. If anything, the hundreds of generations of breeding by humans have probably bred the swimming capabilities out of cattle and not the other way around.

  4. Sure, cows can swim, like almost any animal... but in the sea? For dozens of kilometers? For no reason at all? I cannot accept that.

    Those rivers do not have even a single kilometer width. I made an estimate of the Colorado width and it is a few hundred meters. Not more in the case of the Niger that you posted separately. I could not estimate the Amazon branch width but should not be much more.

  5. The sea? You mean the Mediterranean? Sure. I didn't say "dozens" of kilometers. I've mentioned that the eustatic sea level data is not yet good enough, nor is the bathymetric data, to know exactly how short the hops were between North Africa and Sicily.

    Again, I'm not trying to come to any sort of conclusion. I'm just trying to examin the range of possibilities. Cows are good swimmers, as are other ungulates such as caribou and moose.

    1. I'm telling you that the generally accepted data re. Strait of Sicily in the LGM implies a crossing of c. 40 Km or more. In fact it was probably never crossed by humans before Neolithic, so go figure cows!

    2. Cows are not famed for their swimming abilities. They are not reindeer.

    3. If there is a "generally accepted" view regarding crossing distance on the Strait of Sicily, it is probably out of date if the quote from the "Paleogeography of the Sicily Channel" paper (posted and linked above) is to be believed:

      "Despite this wealth of tectonic activity, the Sicily Channel is one of the less known areas of the Mediterranean, even lacking in bathymetric maps of some detail. In fact, relatively few systematic studies have been conducted to explore the geology and geophysics of this region. Most information comes from the pioneering marine explorations of the 70’s, and from oil companies' data. Sparse and locally very restricted surveys have been conducted only in recent years."

      Whether or not cows are "famed" for their swimming abilities, or lack thereof, they do appear to be able to easily swim across rivers such as the Niger, Amazon and Colorado. Granted, the Youtube videos show cattle swimming distances of several hundred meters, but they don't seem to have the least bit of trouble doing this. They could probably swim much further. Perhaps not 10km, but a wild guess would be about 5km, in a pinch. Feel free to disagree with that, no problem.

      Swimming is only one possibility for the means by which cattle could have, and did (according to Zeder), cross open water on the Mediterranean at a pre or early Neolithic date.

      Also, please don't misquote me, as I never said that cattle could swim "dozens" of kilometers. I also didn't say that cows are reindeer.

    4. I don't think that's a paper but more like a project outline. It has no contents.

      ... "they do appear to be able to easily swim across rivers such as the Niger, Amazon and Colorado".

      And they must have crossed also a lot of European and Asian rivers on their own before domestication, of course. Nothing yet to do with swimming 40 or even 10 kilometers across the sea, a feat that most humans would not be able to do either without some sort of aid, even in the best conditions.

      "... they don't seem to have the least bit of trouble doing this"...

      They turn around and have to be shepherded all the time... they do not seem enthusiastic about it in any case.

      "Perhaps not 10km, but a wild guess would be about 5km, in a pinch".

      Wild, wild guess.

      "Feel free to disagree with that, no problem".

      Feel free to demonstrate it experimentally - poor cow!

      ... "cattle could have, and did (according to Zeder), cross open water on the Mediterranean at a pre or early Neolithic date".

      Zeder? I'm sorry, but totally lost track of that reference. Link?

      I totally accept early Neolithic: it is documented: cattle shows up soon after arrival of Neolithic even where this clearly arrives by ship, as Grecee first or Italy or Spain (or even most of France) later, or Crete, or Cyprus...

      But that is only because humans transported them on ships, maybe as calves, maybe drugged, maybe both.

      "Also, please don't misquote me, as I never said that cattle could swim "dozens" of kilometers".

      You are all the time implying it.

      "I also didn't say that cows are reindeer".

      You compared them very directly.

    5. Early Domestication paper, Melinda A. Zeder:

      FYI: I was just looking a little more at the geology of the Mediterranean. Apparently, the Strait of Sicily is a subduction zone that is sinking. Additionally, they think that adding sea water to the Mediterranean cases the entire Mediterranean basin to sink. These two effects could mean that the geology of the Strait of Sicily is quite plastic. The result is that the Strait was narrower than you can determine from a sea depth map looking at isomers of 100 meters below sea level.

  6. Sorry, the word "isomers" above should read "isohypses".

  7. The Irish have used the Currach to transport cattle for millennia. I've seen footage of an adult Hereford bull being transported to the Aran Islands from Galway. First they bound the bulls legs together with rope, then used a winch/hoist to lift him into an awaiting Currach. Then 2 men rowed it to the island.
    The Currach is a wooden framed boat, covered with greased ox-hide.

  8. @Marnie: thanks for the link.

    It only seems to suggest sea crossing AFTER domestication, not before. In fact Zeder is coincident in all with what I understood was the spread of domestic cattle from a single origin in West Asia.

    She may be wrong in that but in any case there's nothing in her paper supporting wild sea crossings at all. She thinks most likely that:

    T1 cattle entered southern Europe out of North Africa through multiple points of entry.

    On Neolithic ships, mind you.

    She also says:

    It is also possible that T1 cattle traveled overland across the Dardanelles into Eastern Europe.


    @Conroy: glad that you came to the rescue of common sense with Irish old school methods. I had seen transporting pigs as you say but have no memory of bull-transport on boat. I realize now that real cowboys don't seem to be scared of trying it even with full grown bulls.

    Irish cattle does not have horns however, does it? I say because tying the legs alone does not seem enough if the bull has the head free and horned.

  9. @Maju,

    Hereford bulls certainly have horns, that grow horizontally from the side of the head - but of course they are usually cut off with a saw, so no problem at all.

    The Irish traditionally use the lateen sail on the Currachs, as well as rowing them.
    If you read the autobiography of Peig Sayers, who lived on the Blaskett Islands in the extreme South West of Ireland at the tun of the 1900's, she documents trips to France and even Spain by Currach (called naomhóg in Cork and Kerry) in the summer months.

    Of course St Brendan the Navigator of Kerry, Ireland in the 6th century sailed a currach North to discover the Faroes, Iceland and North America. His discoveries were documented later by the monk Dicuil and were known to sailors ever since. Certainly the merchants of Bristol seemed to have known about them for instance.

    Peig Sayers:

    1. "... but of course they are usually cut off with a saw"...

      Really? Here that would probably be forbidden by animal cruelty laws... unless it's part of bullfights, of course. Never saw a cow or bull with cut horns (covered ones, yes, that's usual in popular celebrations, to prevent the worst injuries, but sawed off never). The first time I ever saw hornless cows was in the USA and I was like "WTF, these cows are fake or something!" :D

      "Of course St Brendan the Navigator of Kerry, Ireland in the 6th century sailed a currach North to discover the Faroes, Iceland and North America".

      This is mythical, right? I know he's said to have found the land of happy people or something but he never returned... A comic author we read when young had a story about that, narrating the two versions: the pagan and the Christian side by side and finally the two heroes, who are the same, meeting in that island and having a good laugh... with us the readers. (Can't find the strip online but this is the author: Max with his most famous creation: Peter Punk).

      I understand that even the claimed Irish pre-Viking presence in Iceland has never been proven. A lot of things can be done with a simple boat led by good and lucky mariners... but that doesn't mean that all they say is necessarily true.

    2. @Maju,

      As a kid in Ireland we used to saw off horns of all cattle, later as a teenager you were supposed to give them a painkiller injection first.

      St Brendan was real, he made many voyages and returned again to Ireland. He mentions seeing "Huge Ice Mountains" in the sea, and so many of them that it was hard to find water between them to travel. So obviously icebergs, so obviously somewhere near the Artic, as they were travelling in summer. When the Vikings reached both the Faroes and Iceland they found 2 things there already, Irish monks (in Viking Norse, Papar, Papeys) and goats/sheep brought there by the monks. The goats had become so numerous on the Faroes that there were no trees there - so the Irish had introduced them long before.

      Papar = Christian, from Pope
      Vestmann = Irish, from West Men

      More Here:

    3. Not much is known of the actual life of St. Brendan, assuming that is real, because he lived in the Dark Ages and his legend is too similar to Pagan versions: Bran and Máel Duin.

      Most of what we know of Brendan are his legendary voyages, which do not include any real place, at least a named real place - you can imagine whatever.

      That does not mean that the legend has no actual foundation, for example the icebergs, the sheep or the birds seem quite realistic to me. But overall it's a legend of obscure meaning.

      The Viking references to Irish monks in Iceland may be true after all but that does not mean that the island of laughter is... or that what is attributed to Brendan is actually his work.

      "Papar = Christian, from Pope"

      Should be "father" (Pope comes from Papa, which is nothing but "dad" in Italian) and priests are usually called "father".

      The archaeological evidence for the Papar was elusive until last year and is still being debated.

    4. Thanks, Paul, for the information about the method of cattle transport in Irish currach boats. The wiki link on currach boats is a good read. There's information there about both St. Brendan and Columba using these boats.


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