Wednesday, January 20, 2016


A very inbred type of dairy cow caught my attention last week.  It is the Menorquina [2] of the Balearic Islands, hypothesized to have been most plausibly introduced by Bell Beakers (William H. Waldren?) and apparently having a fairly isolated history.  The milk is used mostly for Mahon cheese, and how could I resist not putting this out there [here] for a little gastro-archaeology.

Previously, I've directed attention towards several hypotheses from archaeo-zoologists and taxonomists that the short-headed cow* (more often a dairy cow) entered Western Europe from North Africa via Southern Spain about the time of the Bell Beakers.  The Beakers are also coincidentally the people likely responsible for the frequency of lactase persistence genetics in Western Europe.

There is no empirical proof just yet, but the Balearic Islands seem to provide an interesting test case scenario given the unique history of settlement and activity on the islands.  The islands offer possibly the longest continuously Beaker cultural areas in Europe and possibly one of the more severely impacted.

See Also:
"Guia de Campo de las Razas Autoctonas Espanolas" [Link to Page 104]

* The naming conventions, taxonomy and genetics is a jungle.  For the purpose of this page, I'll rely on what has generally been understood as a sub-species of bos taurus with a certain set of racial characteristics.  Also, the majority of dairy cattle, at least in the U.S., are not shorthorns (as oppossed to the shorthorn which is not a shorthorn, or otherwise the shorthead (not the sometimes distinct shorthead subclassification of shorthorns, the shorthorn or shorthead (variously) also being known as the longface (longifrons, as called in the U.S., as opposed to bos brachyceros in continental Europe, which is also a Nubian water buffalo.  brachyceros/longifrons. Trust!


  1. The million buck question: was there Bell Beaker in Minorca? A (dated?) study suggest that nope, that BB in the Balearic Islands is scarce and that nothing other than a dagger had been found in the island at the date of its publication (1990s judging on bibliography).

    A more up-to-date but much less detailed source mentions that "there seems to be some Bell Beaker pottery in Minorca but the absence of its incised varieties leaves many questions open".

    So again the issue is: is there anything that can be considered Bell Beaker specific? Or rather is it BB a sub-phenomenon that appears with varied intensity within other cultures, in this case the Megalithic one, which had late dates and may have originated in Corsica (this may also explain the kind of cheese they make, what would be like the typical smelly Corsican ones).

    In general European cow breeds do not show any African affiliation, the opposite instead is common in North Africa. So I wonder why do you think that the cow may have originated in Africa of all places (nothing in links nor in text: they hypothesize a south Iberian origin instead but unclear why).

    1. Forget about the cheese sentence: I was going to delete that but forgot. It's wrong because the Corsican smelly cheese is made of goat milk and I have no reason to think that Mahon cheese is of that type at all (ageing is just normal).

    2. I forgot to answer the last part about migratory patterns and origin.

      That was actually Grigg, 1972 & 1974* and it is partly built off morphological variation and improvements as well as the general and historic distribution.

      So a Brown Swiss would trace its ancestry to Northwest Africa around 3,000 B.C. (being racially distinct from other varieties of cattle in North Africa)

      Ultimately the shorthorns have an origin further East (at one time variously speculated in the Upper Indus) When speaking of its characteristics and origin, some will refer to it as a the highland race of bos taurus primigenius, whereas the latter being the larger, lowland race in Southwest Asia.

      In North Africa and later all of Africa the oldest longhorns mixed or were crossed with local aurochs and these are the ones usually depicted in Saharan bovid rock art. Later a somewhat contemporaneous pulse of indicus (humped) and shortheads came from the East and generally remained distinct. Those cattle racial distinctions can be seen in the Book of Gates parades.

      One of the interesting aspects about shorthorn cattle in West Africa is that their distribution or admixture roughly correlates with LP-T13910. I think this holds true in Western Pakistan and Northwest China as well.

    3. One last nutty theory,

      whereas all modern cattle have localized auroch introgression outside the main vein of domesticated bos taurus primigenius, I'd speculate that brachyceros/longifrons is also mixed with Northern Indus Valley river buffalo.

      Theoretically, this is chromosomally unlikely or impossible. However, if it was possible, even one time, it'd possible explain some of longifrons features and it would still be fully 98% domestic taurus.

      BTW, a few of the bovinae family can interbred to get "Beefalo" and so on.

    4. I don't think genetics supports African arrival of cows to anywhere in Europe. On the other hand it's true that Iberian and Italian breeds do have slightly greater share of the African component than other European breeds, however it is unclear if this means African inflow or just a differential founder effect (both are bos taurus with the same ultimate origin).


      In any case I strongly doubt that a hornless cow can be attributed to African origins. I've never seen an African cow without horns: those breeds are North European, mostly British (no wolves in Britain, right?)

    5. I wouldn't call shorthorns African, only they entered Europe via North Africa.

      Polling is something totally different. Both longhorns and shorthorns can be polled within a few generations (breeding out horns).
      Fig 4 on your post kind of loosely shows some of the distances, basically some of the red Devon derived cattle like Herefords and then Jerseys and Gurganys' are bunched at the bottom. Theoretically, they would have had a bronwnish red coat similar to Menorquinas.

  2. Ok, let me unpack this a little. What you've raised is correct:

    "Regarding Mallorca, Castro et al. (1996:111) and Micó (2006:430) state that the dates of this timeframe obtained from Son Olesa and Son Matge would place the beginning of an extensive and organized occupation of the Balearic Islands in
    conjunction with the spread of the Beaker pottery"


    "Nevertheless, the absence of Beaker pottery in Menorca (Plantalamor et al. 2012) must be mentioned. From a wider perspective, the first human settlement of the Balearic Islands is considered the result of mainland cultural dynamics deriving
    from the northwest Mediterranean in the 3rd millennium cal BC (Ramis 2010:64–70)."
    (Coll, Ramis 2014 DOI: 10.2458/56.17450)

    One of the major differences between the big and small islands is the geology and Majorica appears to have been much more appealing. However, someone, in the third millenium was slashing and burning the woods of Minorca which caused massive soil erosion on that island. The absence of Beaker pottery in Minorca may be due to a much thinner population.

    Regarding Waldren, I thin Menorquinas are thought to be more or less a representative of a type of red brachyceros that he suspects was being imported around the Northern Mediterranean by cultural Beakers, in this case apparently coming from Catalan and Northeast Iberia initially. So the Menorquina (being the cow of Minorca is maybe not really the central argument, but it is more or less a relict of a race)

    As far as severity, what's interesting about the islands is the relative absence of occupation before this and regardless of who may have lived there, it doesn't appear to show strong evidence of being meaningfully populated. So the severity of Beaker immigration is kind of relative, but haplogroups of the modern Balearics seem interesting, assuming no other immigration event substantially changed the islands.

    1. AFAIK the Balearics show clear colonization with the arrival of Cardium Pottery (one of the hotspots, as they were indeed virgin land). The second wave is the Megalithic one from (seemingly) Corsica but this one would be probably less important in terms demographic as Balearic people (Ibizans excepted) are very similar to Catalans in genetics and not so much to Corsicans.

      Ibiza is different (from everything) and actually it was in antiquity considered not part of Balears but a different archipelago (the Pitiusas). El Argar and the Carthaginian Empire are the two main candidates for its peculiar genetics (lots of Y-DNA T, very unusual).

  3. OK, Bellbeaker blogger with Cows and silly me with Horses and Dogs... what a pack of bellbeaker fans!