Yak Domestication: A Review of Linguistic, Archaeological, and Genetic Evidence

Keywords: Yak, Domestication, Tibet, Taurine cattle, Linguistics, Archaeology


Yak, a species of bovid uniquely adapted to high-altitude environments, plays a critical role in the life of the inhabitants of the Tibetan Plateau and neighboring areas. There is currently no consensus on when these animals may have been domesticated. In this paper, we review the archaeological, genetic, and linguistic evidence relevant to this question, and suggest that the domestication took place following hybridization with taurine cattle from the end of the fourth millennium BCE. This study also shows that the original domesticators of yaks included not only the ancestors of the Tibetans, but also Rgyalrongic speaking people from Eastern Tibet.

Author Biographies

Guillaume Jacques, French National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris, France.

Guillaume Jacques is a historical and fieldwork linguist specialized on Sino-Tibetan languages, with interests in linguistic anthropology.

Jade d'Alpoim Guedes, Department of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego, USA.

Jade d’Alpoim Guedes is an archaeologist and ethnobiologist who carries out research on plant and animal management strategies with a focus on the eastern Tibetan plateau.

Shuya Zhang, ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo, Japan.

Zhang Shuya is an ethnolinguist doing research on Rgyalrongic languages of Eastern Tibet.


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A map of the Tibetan Plateau with a colored points and a legend showing the geographic distribution of wild and domesticated yak.
How to Cite
Jacques, G., d’Alpoim Guedes, J., & Zhang, S. (2021). Yak Domestication: A Review of Linguistic, Archaeological, and Genetic Evidence. Ethnobiology Letters, 12(1), 103–114. https://doi.org/10.14237/ebl.12.1.2021.1755
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