New Ancient Lineage of Wild Goat Identified in Turkey

New Ancient Lineage of Wild Goat Identified in Turkey

Dubbed the Taurasian tur, the newly-identified lineage is best represented by a 14,000-year-old genome sequenced from a specimen found in Direkli Cave, a camp site in the Central Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey used by Paleolithic hunters-gatherers for the seasonal hunting and processing of game including large numbers of wild goats.

This forgotten lineage is a sister group to Caucasian tur species — the East Caucasian tur (Capra cylindricornis) and the West Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica) — both now limited to the Caucasus region. It likely survived Late Pleistocene climatic change in a Taurus Mountain refuge but its genomic fate is currently unknown.

Over 12,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers in the Taurus Mountains relied heavily on local game for food and subsistence.

Located near the present-day village of Döngel and at an elevation of 1,100 m above sea level, Direkli Cave was used for roughly three millennia — 14,000 to 11,000 years ago — as a seasonal camp for these hunters and may have been inhabited year-round.

“Among the artifacts found at Direkli Cave were large amounts of bone remains with distinct processing marks, indicating that wild goats were butchered there for consumption,” said Dr. Kevin Daly, a researcher with the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin.

“With the cave surrounded by high peaks, reaching 2,200 m, the wild goat or bezoar ibex (Capra aegagrus) that inhabit the region today were likely the target of these Late Pleistocene hunters.”

In the research, Dr. Daly and colleagues extracted and sequenced DNA from goat bone remains from Direkli Cave.

They noticed something unusual — many of the goats carried mitochondrial genomes similar to a different species of wild goat.

Whereas the domestic goat is derived from the bezoar ibex, other species of wild goat are still alive today and are found in relatively restricted regions.

These include East and West Caucasus turs, two sister species (or subspecies) of wild goat now found only in the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia.

Many of the Direkli Cave samples carried mitochondria related to these Caucasus tur, despite Direkli Cave being around 800 km from their current habitat.

“An even greater surprise came when we examined the Direkli Cave goats’ nuclear genomes: while most looked like the bezoar ibex, as expected, one sample appeared different from the rest,” Dr. Daly said.

“This sample, Direkli4, showed more ancestral genetic variants than other Direkli goats, indicating it might have been a different species than the others.”

Intrigued, the authors screened more material from Direkli Cave and found an additional two samples with a tur-like genome, suggesting that a population of these tur relatives lived in the Taurus Mountains close to local bezoar ibex, with both hunted by humans in pre-historic times.

They suggest a name for the newly-discovered Taurasian tur: Capra taurensis or Capra caucasica taurensis.

“The Last Glacial Maximum, or the Ice Age, may have made many areas inhospitable, forcing these goats to compete with other species,” Dr. Daly said.

“The Taurasian tur may have been a leftover group, restricted to the peaks in the Taurus Mountains.”

“Increasing human activity would have placed additional pressure on the Taurasian tur, with hunting evidenced at Direkli Cave.”

“While we don’t know exactly when or how this goat lineage became extinct, additional genomic surveys in the region might show that their genomes live on in present day wild goats.”

The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal eLife.


Kevin G. Daly et al. A novel lineage of the Capra genus discovered in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey using ancient genomics. eLife, published online October 3, 2022; doi: 10.7554/eLife.82984

This article was first published by Sci-News on 11 October 2022. Lead Image: The West Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica). Image credit: Raindom.

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