A Moment of Science

Evidence Found for the First Domesticated Donkeys

The ancient ancestor of the modern donkey is actually still alive today!

wild_ass

Photo: Judith Anenberg (flickr)

A collection of DNA from archaeological sights and living specimens proves the African wild ass to be the ancestor of the modern donkey.

A research team in northern Africa uncovered DNA evidence for what they think is the first instance of donkey domestication. The evidence was dated to about 5,000 years ago.

The people responsible for the domestication weren’t kings or pharaohs, as some previously believed. They were in fact simple, desert shepherds.

This domestication was quite a monumental breakthrough. However, these ancient people were not merely looking for a pet or companion. They relied on these sturdy animals for survival. The harsh Saharan climate and violent desert storms were constant threats to the survival of these travelers.

Ancient donkeys were used for collecting water, moving household belongings and transporting other goods. Egyptians and Sumerians were able to create the first land-based trade routes due largely in part to the domestication of wild donkeys.

Also from these findings, scientists were able to sort out some of the confusion in the donkey family tree. From ancient and living specimens, they determined that the African wild ass, which is still present but highly endangered, is actually the ancestor of the modern donkey.

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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