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First cowboys in Americas were likely enslaved Africans in 1600s

The first cowboys in the Americas were likely enslaved Africans, and their own cattle herds may have been brought over with them.

So suggests an analysis of 400-year-old cattle DNA from Mexico and the island of Hispaniola published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Conventional wisdom holds that American cattle descend from Spanish livestock brought to the Caribbean by Columbus and others, which later mixed with African breeds imported in the 1700s.

But the new DNA analysis supports the conclusion that African breeds arrived in the New World in the 1600s.

The authors say that fact, combined with a history of slave traders targeting Africans versed in cattle herding, suggests the slave and cattle trades were linked.

Such skills would have been invaluable to colonial powers because indigenous peoples had no experience with large, domesticated animals.

The researchers hypothesize that colonizers might have viewed African cattle as more adaptable to tropical conditions in the Caribbean and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

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Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.