Genetic diversity in cattle (Bos taurus) from Iron Age to early modern period

Humans have shaped phenotypes and genotypes of livestock since domestication ca. 10’000 years ago, eventually leading to modern breeds. Together with humans, domestic animals moved or were traded to other regions; their long-term history is embedded in their genes.

The Romanisation of large areas in Europe was accompanied by large socio-economic changes and migrations of people and animals. From archaeozoological research we know that for the first time since the beginning of the domestication process, the size of livestock increased. Small animals were nevertheless still present. After the retreat of the Romans, animal size decreased again. It was only in modern times that animals became bigger again. Other phenotypic changes, which most probably accompanied size changes, cannot be determined morphometrically.

Current project collaborations
Alpine farming: Klaus Oeggl, University of Innsbruck, Austria

Our aim is to understand evolution of genetic diversity, selection and husbandry in cattle in relation to cultural changes and/or to trace potential cattle import. This will help to understand the processes leading to today’s cattle breeds.

We are analysing mitochondrial d-loop genetic diversity in cattle from the Iron Age site Basel Gasfabrik, the Roman town Augusta Raurica and the medieval site in Reinach. Most of the important markers for selection are in the nuclear DNA. Obvious selective traits are colour or genes related to milk and meat quality. We plan to type these in archaeological bones in the future.

We collaborate with museums and archaeological services of the cantons in Switzerland, in particular Römerstadt Augusta Raurica, Kantonsarchäologie Basel and Kantonsarchäologie Baselland.


Genetic signatures of wild and domestic horses (Equus sp.) in Switzerland

The aim of the project is to unravel the complex history of horses by combining different research disciplines: archaeology, archaeozoology, archaeogenetics and modern animal genetics. The project will help understand the transition from wild to domestic animals and the developments leading to current variation in horse breeds.

Mainly mitochondrial d-loop variation in geographically restricted wild and early domestic horse populations from Palaeolithic to early modern times from archaeological sites in Switzerland are investigated to establish any presence of pattern, their temporal evolution and positioning within European horse phylogeny. In addition, y-chromosomal variation will be examined. To gauge the effect of domestication nuclear coat colour loci will be investigated as these are among the most obvious to be selected by early humans. Regional present-day rare horse breeds will be included in the study for comparison with ancient samples.

Financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft Basel, and the Nikolaus und Bertha Burckhardt-Bürgin Foundation in collaboration with Tosso Leeb, University of Bern, CH, Stefan Rieder HARAS Avenches, CH, Michael Hofreiter University of Potsdam, Germany, Arne Ludwig IWZ Berlin, Germany, Team Julia Elsner, José Granado.

We are collaborators within the ECR project PEGASUS, led by Ludovic Orlando CNRS University Paul Sabatier Touluse.