One of the earliest Egyptian kings carried his "beasts of burden" into the afterlife. Paleoscientists discovered the skeletons of 10 donkeys nestled in three mud graves dating back 5,000 years ago when Egypt was just forming a state. The donkey skeletons were discovered in 2003 lying on their sides in graves at a burial complex of one of the first pharaohs at Abydos, Egypt, which is about 300 miles south of Cairo."There have been very few funerary complexes of the first pharaohs ever found," said Fiona Marshall, an anthropologistat Washington University in St.
Louis, "and nobody expected that in some of the highest status graves there would be donkeys; you normally have high courtiers or nobles."The excavators, who expected to at least find human remains and likely those of noble descent, got a surprise when they found grave areas full of donkeys. But only recently did scientists study the bones in detail to reveal the true significance of the discovery: The skeletons represent the first clear evidence of the domestication of the wild ass.
The new findings are reported online in the March 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A donkey is a member of the
Equidae family, which includes horses, zebras and African wild asses,
which are theancestors of domesticated donkeys. (A mule is the
offspring of a male donkey, commonly called a jack ass, and a female
horse, called a mare.)
Genetic studies and other
research point to an African origin for donkeys about 6,000 years ago.
The exact timing and location of the changeover from a wild meat source
to a docile human helper have been tricky to pinpoint, however.
For one, donkey skeletons
from thousands of years ago are rare. In addition, researchers say it’s
difficult to see changes that would distinguish wild from domesticated.
Some past research of isolated donkey bones has relied on size as a
marker of domestication. Smaller size was presumed to be associated
with the crowded, hardworking conditions of domesticated versions
compared with the free-foraging wild asses.
The date of burial is also a murkymarker.......
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