Bronze Age farmers are thought to have given cows a preferential feeding strategy over other domesticated animals.

According to new research, the meat and milk products from Bronze Age China played a remarkable role in human diets, unlike what has been thought previously. This work also suggests that farmers and shepherds have treated their cows differently from how they treated their goats and sheep, which is different compared to the rest of the world. They kept their cows closer to their homes and fed them with byproducts of their own food that they grow, like grains and millet stalks.

It is possible to get archaeological records of how crops were planted and domestic animals moved in prehistoric Eurasia. The point that is not clear enough is: how did farmers and herders from the Bronze Age manage to combine those newly introduced domestic animals (like southwestern Asian cows) into their long-lasting traditional agriculture and cuisine?

cow, Bronze Age, holstein

A study from Scientific Reports, a reputable journal in its field, combines data from the latest and earlier research that has been obtained from nine sites along the Hexi (Gansu) Corridor, a significant region between the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi Desert that was used to ease the course of ancient crops between East and Central Asia. Aside from that, researchers also strengthen their findings by making analyses on bone records and isotope samples from plants, animals and people.

The head author of the research, Petra Vaiglova, says that “We were able to examine the diet of local herbivores from the Hexi Corridor in northwest China during the Bronze Age by using the stable isotope analysis method.” Results indicate that in the studied region, ecological niches differ greatly because of the distinct management differences between cattle, sheep, and goats. To us, that derived from the effort of local farmers who tried to merge conventional and innovative methods into a balance.

Hexi Koridoru, Bronze Age
Hexi Corridor: It is a historical route in the Chinese province of Gansu.

According to the findings of researchers, it seems like locals just let the sheep and goats graze around the village and feed on naturally grown flora, while for cows, they both let them graze and also fed them at the same time. The cow bones that were analysed by them also show that there were plants from drier lands that weren’t really included in natural flora. Those foreign corps include Eastern Asia-originated millet plants.

Those discoveries show that the diet of cows was highly shaped by humans and so they have been kept closer to human villages compared to sheep and goats.

Xinyi Liu, an important author of the research, comments that “As the results imply, at Hexi Corridor there are similar results of domesticating and localising cows that have been significantly domesticated in a different environment. Areas whose grazing sites are limited for cows, tend to be suitable for a pig-based economy rather than cattle stall-feeding.”

Researchers claim that those results match up with modern ethnographic examples from North China, where cows won’t graze in open local fields like sheep and goats do, but stand closer to where people have settled.

According to Liu, recognising the agricultural and dietary conditions of the past can help us face some of the problems of today’s world. Those challenges are not only environmental but also social. Assuming that the soil moisture is decreasing worldwide because of the climate that just keeps getting warmer, we are able to draw some similarities between northwest China and Mid-Holocene conditions. Based on the increased innovations in the agriculture field, long-term social influences have been formed during 5000–1500 BC on the Eurasian continent. Identification of the genuine nature of those innovations around the continents may help us to build the foundations of cultivation implementations in today’s marginal world.

Further reading: Petra Vaiglova, Rachel E. B. Reid, Emma Lightfoot, Suzanne E. Pilaar Birch, Hui Wang, Guoke Chen, Shuicheng Li, Martin Jones, Xinyi Liu. Localized management of non-indigenous animal domesticates in Northwestern China during the Bronze Age. Scientific Reports, 2021; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-95233-x

Source: ScienceDaily

Edited on: 13 October 2022