High mitochondrial diversity of domesticated goats persisted among Bronze and Iron Age pastoralists in the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor
Goats were initially managed in the Near East approximately 10,000 years ago and spread across Eurasia as economically productive and environmentally resilient herd animals. While the geographic origins of domesticated goats (Capra hircus) in the Near East have been long-established in the zooarchaeological record and, more recently, further revealed in ancient genomes, the precise pathways by which goats spread across Asia during the early Bronze Age (ca. 3000 to 2500 cal BC) and later remain unclear. We analyzed sequences of hypervariable region 1 and cytochrome b gene in the mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) of goats from archaeological sites along two proposed transmission pathways as well as geographically intermediary sites. Unexpectedly high genetic diversity was present in the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor (IAMC), indicated by mtDNA haplotypes representing common A lineages and rarer C and D lineages. High mtDNA diversity was also present in central Kazakhstan, while only mtDNA haplotypes of lineage A were observed from sites in the Northern Eurasian Steppe (NES). These findings suggest that herding communities living in montane ecosystems were drawing from genetically diverse goat populations, likely sourced from communities in the Iranian Plateau, that were sustained by repeated interaction and exchange. Notably, the mitochondrial genetic diversity associated with goats of the IAMC also extended into the semi-arid region of central Kazakhstan, while NES communities had goats reflecting an isolated founder population, possibly sourced via eastern Europe or the Caucasus region.