400-year-old cow bones suggests America’s cattle were connected to the slave trade

The first cowboys in the Americas lived in Mexico and the Caribbean, and most of them came over from Afria according to cow bones excavated on the island of Hispaniola and at sites in Mexico.

But the first cowboys lived in Mexico and the Caribbean, and most of them were Black.

That’s the conclusion of a recent analysis of DNA from 400-year-old cow bones excavated on the island of Hispaniola and at sites in Mexico. The work, published in Scientific Reports, also provides evidence that African cattle made it to the Americas at least a century earlier than historians realized.

The timing of these African imports—to the early 1600s—suggests the growth of cattle herds may have been connected to the slave trade, says study author Nicolas Delsol, an archaeozoologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History

“It changes the whole perspective on the mythical figure of the cowboy, which has been whitewashed over the 20th century.”

Before the arrival of Europeans, domestic cattle (Bos taurus) did not exist in the Americas, and most of our knowledge about how domestic bovines first arrived in the Western Hemisphere is based on historical documents.

Sixteenth-century colonial accounts suggest that the first cattle were brought in small numbers from the southern Iberian Peninsula via the Canary archipelago to the Caribbean islands where they were bred locally and imported to other circum-Caribbean regions. Modern American heritage cattle genetics and limited ancient mtDNA data from archaeological colonial cattle suggest a more complex story of mixed ancestries from Europe and Africa.

So far little information exists to understand the nature and timing of the arrival of these mixed-ancestry populations. In this study we combine ancient mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from a robust sample of some of the earliest archaeological specimens from Caribbean and Mesoamerican sites to clarify the origins and the dynamics of bovine introduction into the Americas.

The European colonization of the Western Hemisphere was a crucial event in recent history that arguably shaped the modern world by connecting, through transatlantic travel, cultures and biota of the major landmasses of Afro-Eurasia and the Americas.

Following humans, it was the arrival of domestic animals from the Eastern Hemisphere that most significantly rearranged the abundance and distribution of species and human activities.

Among these, cattle were particularly impactful as a central part of new post-Columbian (post-1492) economic and social structures3, and as a major force in reshaping pre-Columbian landscapes and agrosystems.

These cultural and environmental impacts of cattle can be attributed in large part to the development of cattle ranching, a management system where animals roam semi-freely on vast tracts of land with little human intervention.

The conventional narrative on the introduction of cattle in the post-Columbian Americas based on historical sources suggests that the founding population of the herds in the Spanish colonies was composed of about five hundred animals that were transplanted to the Caribbean islands of Hispaniola, Cuba, and Jamaica

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Peg Fong is also in recovery from newspapers

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