How the donkey was tamed to face the desert

Wall painting from the tomb of Iti at Gebelein, Egypt, depicting carrying sacks of grain on donkeys. ©NPL/©NPL/

STORY – The beast of burden was tamed around 7,000 years ago in the Sahara, according to a vast genetic study.

An animal with a bad reputation, accustomed to dirty deeds, the donkey has accompanied humanity for millennia. However, little scientific work had so far been interested in its history. “The donkey is a victim of its negative image”, judge Ludovic Orlando, paleogeneticist at Paul-Sabatier University in Toulouse. “It is much less prestigious than the horse or even the cow, because with us it has less economic value. But in many countries, it is an indispensable animal in everyday life.” The proof is that its population increases by one percent each year.

Several hypotheses existed until then to tell its domestication, but they were often based on iconographic sources, engravings which represented animals with long ears. “Difficult to know in this case if they were really pets”, explains the scientist. In addition to these engravings, there are archaeological remains in several regions of the world. “There are…

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