Of cattle and people. And barley

Dienekes, a blogger who specializes in molecular anthropology, has a quick note today on a paper on the molecular genetics of cattle in Europe. The main story is one of distinction between North and South.

Apparently, the expansion of the dairy breeds have created, or largely maintained, a sharp genetic contrast of northern and southern Europe, which divides both France and Germany. It may be hypothesised that the northern landscapes, with large flat meadows, are suitable for large-scale farming with specialised dairy cattle (Niederungsvieh, lowland cattle), whilst the mixed-purpose or beef cattle (Höhenvieh, highland cattle) are better suited to the smaller farms and hilly regions of the south. However, it is also remarkable that in both France and Germany the bovine genetic boundary coincides with historic linguistic and cultural boundaries. In France, the Frankish invasion in the north created the difference between the northern langue d’oïl and the southern langue d’oc. The German language is still divided into the southern Hochdeutsch and northern Niederdeutsch dialects, which also correlates with the distribution of the Catholic and Protestant religions. On a larger scale, it is tempting to speculate that the difference between two types of European cattle reflects, and has even reinforced, the traditional and still visible contrast of Roman and Germanic Europe.

It doesn’t seem that the strong latitudinal genetic differentiation in cattle is matched by one in human populations. Here the pattern is much more gradual and clinal. ((Maybe there’s more interbreeding among human populations than between cattle breeds?)) However, there may be a similar “sharp genetic contrast of northern and southern Europe” (or at least between the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe) for barley. ((Yeah, I know it’s an old paper, but it’s the only map of barley genetic diversity in Europe I could find online at short notice. No doubt our readers will send in better examples.))

I’d dearly love to have the time to find out whether other livestock and crops show a similar pattern.

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