A recent genetic analysis sheds new light on the origin of donkeys


Donkeys are the most common beast of burden and are frequently used to drag materials over vast distances, as they did in distant times. A group of geneticists has identified the date of that ancient past. The researchers believe they had determined the date and location when the first domesticated donkeys appeared.

Through the analysis of 238 donkey genomes – 31 of which were found from ancient donkeys. The team found evidence of domestication in East Africa that dates to approximately 5,000 BCE, just a little ahead of the earliest archeological records of domesticated donkeys. Their work is released this week in Science.

“We located the Horn+Kenya as the region hosting those donkeys today that are the closest to those first domesticated,” said study co-author Ludovic Orlando, a geneticist at Universite Paul Sabatier of France through an email message to Gizmodo. “It does not necessarily imply that this is the exact, precise location of the donkey homeland since the ancestors could have lived in another nearby region.”

It is still being determined if they originated from Sudan, Egypt, or Africa’s Horn. Somewhere in the northwestern part of Africa is most likely the place of origin for these beasts of weight. To determine the exact location of origin to the donkey as the team believes that further archaeological research will be required. New excavations may reveal material and cultural evidence suggesting the domestication of the donkey.

A team comprising Orlando released details about the genetic background of the horse as well as their domestication within East Asia; the recent research may help scientists find out more information on both animals’ respective genetic histories and where they cross-breed.

Researchers also traced clear dispersal patterns for donkeys that travel between the western part of Africa and Europe that go back to Roman times. They also identified a previously unidentified donkey lineage within the Levant that was present around 2,200 years ago.

The more than 200 donkey genomes they studied included the genetic data from 3 jennies (female donkeys) and six Jacks (males) of Roman France. It is believed that the site was discovered between 200 CE and 500 CE and is believed to be a breeding site for big donkeys. However, the research team believes that the site may be just one of many and helped to meet the demand for donkeys in the Roman Empire.

In the past last year, archaeologists discovered that the first hybrid animal humans bred was the kunga, a dorky-wild ass hybrid. Orlando believes the latest research may help answer questions regarding the history behind the mule, the male donkey’s sterile offspring, and female horses. (The female donkeys’ offspring, as well as male horses, is known as hinnies.)

The equine mysteries (and other mysteries!) can be analyzed by studying ancient and modern animal DNA, forming an image that could previously only be constructed from physical evidence. When taken together with the archeological and genomic evidence can reveal a full tale of domestication, a tale of donkeys, and, yes, equally, the story of us.


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