Knowledge about genetic diversity and population structure is useful for designing effective strategies to improve the production, management and conservation of farm animal genetic resources. Here, we present a comprehensive genome-wide analysis of genetic diversity, population structure and admixture based on 244 animals sampled from 10 cattle populations in Asia and Africa and genotyped for 69 903 autosomal single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) mainly derived from the indicine breed. Principal component analysis, STRUCTURE and distance analysis from high-density SNP data clearly revealed that the largest genetic difference occurred between the two domestic lineages (taurine and indicine), whereas Ethiopian cattle populations represent a mosaic of the humped zebu and taurine. Estimation of the genetic influence of zebu and taurine revealed that Ethiopian cattle were characterized by considerable levels of introgression from South Asian zebu, whereas Bangladeshi populations shared very low taurine ancestry. The relationships among Ethiopian cattle populations reflect their history of origin and admixture rather than phenotype-based distinctions. The high within-individual genetic variability observed in Ethiopian cattle represents an untapped opportunity for adaptation to changing environments and for implementation of within-breed genetic improvement schemes. Our results provide a basis for future applications of genome-wide SNP data to exploit the unique genetic makeup of indigenous cattle breeds and to facilitate their improvement and conservation.