Indigenous people in Kurdistan were first to domesticate goats more than 10,000 years ago, new study finds
Goats are one of the most beloved animals across Kurdistan, and there is rarely a village or town in the Kurdistan Region where the animals cannot be seen. Not surprisingly, a new study has shown that both herded and hunted goats were domesticated in none other than Kurdistan in the area of Zagros Mountain more than 10,000 years ago.
Goats are naturally energetic, friendly, healthy, and undoubtedly native to the high grounds of Zagros where they seem to have found their own Eden. The mountain chain in Eastern Kurdistan, in the west of what is now called Iran, has long been a hospitable habitat for the wildlife.
The Mount Zagros region was one of the earliest centers for animal domestication for different purposes, including meat and milk production, protection, and companionship.
Goats are considered one of Kurdistan’s national animals and are part of the history, literature and culture of Kurdish people, the indigenous people of the Zagros region. An old Kurdish saying can be translated as, “goats make their place even for a single night.” Difficult to convey in English, it nonetheless shows that Kurds have a deep understanding of these animals, and is also a metaphor for ancient and indigenous people of Kurdistan making their own homes in the region.
The three major breeds of goats in Kurdistan are known as the domestic black, Meriz or Mohair, and the mountain goat. According to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s agriculture ministry, there are just above one million domesticated goats in the region.
Research newly published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US suggests that archaeozoological discoveries provide sufficient information that the goat was first domesticated in the Zagros region about 10,000 years ago, making them one of the first animals domesticated after dogs.
The researchers studied the preserved bones of the animals in two different archeological sites on Zagros Mountain dated to the Late Pleistocene to Early Holocene eras between 11,700 and 12,000 years ago. They focused on the DNA of the animals which was pulled from the bones of both wild and domesticated goats similar to the ones still living in the region.
Based on their findings, the researchers believe that the inhabitants of the Zagros area hunted larger and meatier male goats (as well as other animals), and that the goats were mostly over four years old when killed.
Comparisons between the bones of the animals found in the two sites, dated about 1,000 years apart, showed there had been a slight change in the goats’ horn shape as well as their overall size.
Fourteen nuclear genomes – a complete set of DNA located within a cell – and 32 mitochondrial genomes – the DNA that comes from the powerhouse of the cell – collected in the study showed similarities between the bones of early domesticated goats with modern ones. It also showed that female animals lived longer as they were favored by the people and were seen as a necessity for reproduction. This has also been more apparent in domesticated goats.
In 2008, Melinda A. Zeder, an American archaeologist and Curator Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology of the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution concluded that goats and sheep were domesticated about 10,500 years ago in the area of Kurdistan that stretches from Zagros Mountain to the southwest of Anatolia in modern Turkey.
According to both Zeder's study and the new PNAS publication, this Fertile Crescent was a natural habitat for the animals and humans alike. Thus, goat domestication and management 11,000 years ago took place in the region of Zagros – approximately 2-3,000 years before any other place in the world.
The number of wild mountain goats in the Kurdistan Region is increasing, and the government has assigned special units of the Peshmerga Command of Environmental Protection to preserve wildlife.