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The Domestication History of Goats (Capra hircus)

History and Domestication

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Goat Herd on Ithaki, Greece

Goat Herd on Ithaki, Greece

Malingering

Goats (Capra hircus) were among the first domesticated animals, adapted from the wild version Capra aegargus. Beginning about 10,000-11,000 years ago, Neolithic farmers in the Near East began keeping small herds of goats for their milk and meat, and for their dung for fuel, as well as for materials for clothing and building: hair, bone, skin and sinew.

Today there are more than 300 breeds of goats, and they live in climates ranging from high altitude mountains to deserts. Recent mtDNA research suggests that all goats today are descended from a handful of animals and may have been domesticated in a handful of different places.

Important Goat Sites

Archaeological data suggest two distinct places of domestication: the Euphrates river valley at Nevali Çori, Turkey (11,000 bp), and the Zagros Mountains of Iran at Ganj Dareh (10,000). Other possible sites of domestication include the Indus Basin in Pakistan at (Mehrgarh, 9,000 bp) and perhaps central Anatolia and the southern Levant.

Other important archaeological sites with evidence for the initial process of goat domestication include Cayönü, Turkey (8500-8000 BC), Tell Abu Hureyra, Syria (8000-7400 BC), Jericho, Israel (7500 BC), and Ain Ghazal, Jordan (7600-7500 BC).

Recognizing Domesticated Goats

Domestication in goats has been recognized archaeologically by the presence and abundance of the animal into regions that were well beyond their normal habitats, by perceived changes in their body size and shape (called morphology), by differences in demographic profiles in wild and domestic groups, and by stable isotope recognition of their dependence on year-round fodders.

Sources

This article is part of the About.com Guide to the History of Animal Domestication.

Alizadeh, Abbas, et al. Excavations at the Prehistoric Mound of Chogha Bonut, Khuzestan, Iran: Seasons 1976/77, 1977,78, and 1996. 2003. Chicago, Illinois, University of Chicago. Oriental Institute Publications.

Fernández H, Hughes S, Vigne J-D, Helmer D, Hodgins G, Miquel C, Hänni C, Luikart G, and Taberlet P. 2006. Divergent mtDNA lineages of goats in an Early Neolithic site, far from the initial domestication areas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103(42):15375-15379.

Joshi, Manjunath B., et al. 2004. Phylogeography and Origin of Indian Domestic Goats. Molecular Biology and Evolution 21(3):454-462.

Luikart, Gordon, et al. 2001. Multiple maternal origins and weak phylogeographic structure in domestic goats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98:5927-5932.

MacHugh, David E. and Daniel G. Bradley. 2001. Livestock genetic origins: Goats buck the trend. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98:5382-5384.

Makarewicz, Cheryl and Noreen Tuross. 2006. Foddering by Mongolian pastoralists is recorded in the stable carbon (d13C) and nitrogen (d15N) isotopes of caprine dentinal collagen. Journal of Archaeological Science 33:862-870.

Zeder, Melinda A. 2001. A Metrical Analysis of a Collection of Modern Goats (Capra hircus aegargus and C. h. hircus) from Iran and Iraq: Implications for the Study of Caprine Domestication. Journal of Archaeological Science 28(1):61-79.

Zeder, Melinda A. and Brian Hesse. 2000. The Initial Domestication of Goats (Capra hircus) in the Zagros Mountains 10,000 Years Ago. Science 28(7):2254-2257.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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