Deconstructing an Icon
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The cowboy is an iconic image often associated with the American West.
To arrive at this conclusion, scientists analyzed DNA from approximately 400-year-old cow bones excavated from sites in Mexico and Hispaniola island. One key finding is the presence of African cattle DNA in a bone sample from Mexico City dating back to the early 1600s.
The research team explained that the discovery challenges previous assumptions that all cattle in the early colonial period were of European origin. It suggests that colonizers intentionally introduced African cattle to adapt to the tropical climates of the Caribbean and Mexico.
But this arrival of African cattle also coincides with the transatlantic slave trade: Co-author Nicolas Delsol said that Spanish and Portuguese ranchers in the New World “needed trained, skilled workers, and African ranchers were more knowledgeable about raising cattle in tropical environments.”
He added that the Indigenous populations of the Americas had little experience with large, domesticated animals, such as cows.
Historical records from the early 1600s indicate that slave traders were targeting African groups with expertise in cattle herding, such as the Fulani from modern-day Cameroon.
Other researchers hope that the study will help shift the misconception of the origins of the cowboy, while also underscoring the significant contributions of enslaved Africans, who also introduced innovative techniques, such as herding cattle from horseback and using lassos.