Wild or domesticated: DNA analysis of ancient water buffalo remains from north China

Dongya Y. Yang, Li Liu, Xingcan Chen, Camilla F. Speller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent zooarchaeological studies on water buffalo (Bubalus sp.) remains from China and south Asia question the traditional view that water buffalo were first domesticated in Neolithic China over 7000 years ago. The results from several recent population genetic Studies of modern domesticated buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) are not consistent with each other, placing the original center of buffalo's domestication in south Asia, southeast Asia, or China. This paper reports a study using all ancient DNA approach to analyze water buffalo remains from Neolithic sites in north China to investigate their affinities with modern domesticated water buffalo, and to shed light on the origin of modern domesticated water buffalo in China.

A 169 bp fragment of D-loop mitochondrial DNA was successfully amplified and verified for 13 of 24 bone samples obtained from seven archaeological sites along the Wei River valley in Shaanxi Province, China. The bone samples which yielded positive DNA call be dated to 8000-3600 cal. BR The phylogenetic analysis of the obtained DNA sequences along with modern water buffalo sequences indicated that the ancient water buffalos were not the direct ancestor of modern domesticated water buffalo. However, the phylogenetic analysis, along with BLAST searches of these ancient DNA sequences, did demonstrate their relatedness to water buffalo more so than to any other bovid species, confirming the existence of indigenous wild (but now extinct) water buffalo species (B. mephistopheles) in ancient China.

The DNA analysis of these ancient remains failed to establish direct links between modern domesticated water buffalo (B. bubalis) and indigenous water buffalo (B. mephistopheles) from ancient China. If further DNA studies of more ancient remains from other regions of China confirm the observation of solely indigenous water buffalo species in ancient China, it would Suggest modern water buffalo might not have been first domesticated in China. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2778-2785
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of archaeological science
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008

Cite this