Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Origins of Domesticated Water Buffalo in China

Li Liu, Sir Robert Ho Tung Professor in Chinese Archaeology, EALC,Stanford University

Recent zooarchaeological studies on water buffalo (Bubalus sp.) remains from Asia have challenged a traditional belief that water buffalo were first domesticated over 7000 years ago in China and related to rice cultivation. The results from several DNA analyses of modern domesticated buffalo (B. bubalis) are contradictory, placing the original center of buffalo’s domestication variously in South Asia, Southeast Asia, or China. One of the problems with this confusing situation is the lack of DNA information from ancient buffalo remains. Our project attempts to fill this gap by integrating zooarchaeological and ancient DNA approaches to analyzing water buffalo remains from Neolithic sites in China, in order to determine their species status and to shed light on the origin of modern domestic water buffalo. The preliminary results of our research indicate that the Chinese indigenous buffalo (B. mephistopheles) existing during the Holocene were neither domestic nor closely-related to the ancestral population of modern domestic water buffalo in Asia. Several lines of evidence from archaeology and ethnography suggest that the domesticated swamp water buffalo is likely to have been introduced to China through the so-called Southwest Silk Road, which connected Southwest China with SE Asia, around the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) when cultural interaction between China and its surrounding regions intensified.

Thursday, January 13, 2011 | 5:00 pm — 6:00 pm
Building 500, Archaeology Center

Archaeology Center
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures