Thursday, May 19, 2016

Donkey (Equus Asinus) in Iberia 2,500 B.C. (Cardoso et al, 2013)

The ass was present at the walled fortress of Leceia around 2,500 B.C.  This was demonstrated using mitochondrial and radiocarbon evidence by Cardoso, Vilstrup, Eisenmann and Orlando.

Leceia Ass Tooth (Drawn by B. L. Ferreira; photos by J. L. Cardoso)

The molecular evidence demonstrates an animal not native to Pleistocene Iberia as being present in Chalcolithic Leceia, it being a descendant of those wild asses native to Northeast Africa, possibly of a subgroup having been domesticated in Egypt or Mesopotamia.  While it is impossible to ascertain whether this ass was domesticated, it would almost certainly need to be given the circumstances and the type of find.

The tooth of the ass at Leceia was directly dated to a range that is almost perfectly contemporary with the Standard of Ur, being the middle of the third millennium.  This is fairly significant because, using the last post as one example, trade and cultural links between Iberia and the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa are well demonstrated.  Cardoso et al believe these trade links may have brought the donkey to Iberia at this time.

Sumerian chariots and donkeys trample a miserable soul c.2,500 (British Museum #1928,1010.3AN12575001) ( FI-000833573)
Below is the tower where the tooth was found.

And below is a general layout of the site from the paper.  You can see the fortress is slightly north of the Tagus near modern Lisbon.  It has been previously held that the Phoenicians brought the ass to Southern Europe (and the chicken as well), but at least for the ass, it has an older presence.

Leceia is one of the many great Portuguese walled enclosures that project on the surrounding landscape.  The are built rapidly using the same plans at about the same time before falling into disrepair.  Around the middle of the third millennium, Bell Beaker artifacts appear, as does changes in weaving and now dairy processing.

Cardoso has written about those artifacts and ceramics termed 'pre-campaniforme' [here] and those of the early campaniforme [here] and its general chronology to give a little context of this site. 

One question that may be asked is, that if this is in fact a domesticated ass, why did it take so long to spread into Europe?  I think this could partly be explained by the fact that the ass is a browser and better suited for hot climes and badlands, whereas the Asian horse, mostly a grazer, may have been more suitable for deforested, temperate Europe.  If this sounds unreasonable, consider the fact that even after its most recent plausible introduction (with the Phoenicians), it still was not a widely used animal in Northern Europe, even with the Roman conquest and Christian missions.

As with the horse in the Late Neolithic, the evidence may have always been there and now new tools are revealing the provenance of materials and the sub-species of animal bones..

"First evidence of Equus asinus L. in the Chalcolithic disputes the Phoenicians as the first to introduce donkeys into the Iberian Peninsula" João L. Cardoso, Julia T. Vilstrup, Véra Eisenmann, Ludovic Orlando (2013) Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 4483e4490  [Link]


  1. BBB,
    I don’t want to sound like those lunatics… however.
    As my thesis explains the shulaveri are the masters of domestication. And the first Domesticated Assinus are actually found in Merimde and el-omari, as are for that matter the dogs. So this all fits into my thesis.

    “The earliest remains thought to be donkeys were identified on the basis of size and archaeological context and are thought to date to late 5th millennium and the first half of the 4th millennium B.C. contexts in the Egyptian prehistoric settlements of El-Omari (ca. 4600–4400 B.C.), Maadi (first half of 4th millennium B.C.), and Hierakonpolis (ca. 3600 B.C.) (18,25–28).”

    What I posit in my thesis is that by 3000bc those Ass (and Tarpan Horses) were in Iberia brought by them, and that are several papers that address the issue. Actually ask Cardoso himself and he is familiar with the baffling Horse problem as I called. There are Assinus , but also “something” that are horse, because bigger than assinus, but smaller than the Pleistocene and beautiful Lusitano horses that the Bell beaker took from Portugal to conquer Europe.
    If you have lusitanos, one drops the Assinus and the Tarpans (lousy horses).

  2. And just to be clear. The enigmas that populates Iberia equid remains, that even Cardoso addreses in this paper will not be settled until we come to terms if some of those were not actually Tarpans (and even african Donkeys) the came with and exogenous population that made the south Iberia Calcolithic. today those tarpans are part of the portuguese Sorraia horses.
    The Wild Sorraia Horse: Was it the first horse before domestication?

    1. That's a good video, thanks for posting it

    2. Beautiful horses & an important link to the ancient past. Thank you!

  3. I Promise is the last one.... ;)
    In Cardoso paper, you miss the most important part. Screw the donkey!
    see the Phylogenetic tree in page 4488, and what I would love to see how that Porto carretas horse would yield related to those Przewalski and the Sorraia horses. I bet everybody that there will be a lot of that porto carretas horse in the Porto carretas 3000 bc horse.

  4. sorry meant genetics of porto carretas 3000 bc horse in the mysterious nowadays Sorraia horses (Sorraia is a river just 50 miles from that porto carretas site)

  5. What's your view on 'the horse' ? I recently read an aDNA paper on European horses, and it found that the Iberian horse was not the one which became prevalent, but the ones from the East did, IIRC.
    ("Coat Color Variation at the Beginning of Horse Domestication"; Ludwig et al)

    1. Busy day, sorry for the late response...

      One theory is that anywhere cereals were cultivated, wild equinae would invite themselves in, bringing them closer to interaction with humans, similar to Taurus and indicus; creating a symbiosis where multiple domestication events were possible, Steppe horses and asses as one example. Wild equinae also easily bond with humans due to their social structure, like canidae. So theoretically it's possible horses could have easily been independently domesticated in multiple places.

      A more likely scenario is that the Bronze Age stumpy Tarpan-like horse became progressively refined, which is directly correlated to the development of the traffic system in Western Europe IMO. so European horses could have become increasingly developed after their initial introduction because road improvement, spoked wheels, barns and hayage have been favorable for the long legged steppe horse.

      There's little question Mustangs, Lusitano and Sorraia are distinct and that Western horses share and affinity. It's hard to tell if this is a wild tarpan introgression or just a feral state.
      Other factors could explain the car haicness of the Sorraia. It couldjust be a feral horse with native steppe marking.

      It also appears that domestics preceded Beakers in Iberia, although this could be the ass

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    3. BBB,
      Not that I disagree with what you said. Not in it entirely.
      But I do have to write the chapter about horses on my thesis….
      A couple notes:
      a. the stance at breedingback is that Sorraia is too inbred with lusitano, obviously they have shared the same 100 km land range for millennia. However some phylogenetic lnks Sorraia directly to przewalski's horse and so tarpans. Naturally if you bundle all together you will get a lot of lusitano out of Sorraia. Bud they do display primitive traits (tarpans?) by the buck loads.
      b. Cleary bell beaker horses coming out of Iberia were Lusitanos. And bronze age horses on western Europe were lusitanos. They we start to inbreed them all and so it’s a mess from those days on.
      c. You are right. Horse domestication is pre-bell beaker. There were a lot of horses in the alentejo lowland settlements by 3300-3000bc and those were not food. You even had Antonio Carlos Valera here in one of your posts a couple day back. Him, Cardoso, Rui Mataloto, etc they all mention one time or the other the problem of horses in chalcolithic Iberia.
      d. See there are horses as big as the ones in Pleistocene Iberia (like Lusitano), than there are Ass and other even smaller species… and then there are “those”. Way to big to be Ass, to small to be the big Pleistocene Iberia horses… so what were those that just appear as outliers in Iberia chalcolithic and not before?. Were seen in Zambujal as well as earlier late Neolithic/chalcolithic South Portugal.
      e. Actually they have the same size as, for instance the 4.500 bc horse in shiqmin (near Sinai) and the same size of the horse in Saharonim (100 km from Merimde) and then they were no more.
      So, the day we stop assuming that was Ass (a very, very big ass) and start to assume that in the late 5th millennia and 4 millennia there was a people roaming with horses that were the size of tarpans and that what one sees in Iberia early setllements in Iberia was those horses.

      Then let’s all bear in mind that it’s not easy to figure which equid one is looking by looking at limbs… but let’s just stop saying that it was big, really huge ass! That just makes us assholes.