Sheep (Ovis aries) were probably first domesticated at least three separate times in the Fertile Crescent of western Iran and Turkey, Syria and Iraq. This occurred approximately 10,500 years ago, and involved at least three different subspecies of the wild mouflon (Ovis gmelini). Sheep were the first "meat" animals domesticated. Hans-Peter Uerpmann poses a scenario leading to domestication, that hunters might have brought orphaned animals back to their homes. Because mouflon are docile and cute as babies, they might have been kept at households long enough to reach sexual maturity and begin breeding. Sheep, course, were not simply bred for meat, but also provide milk and milk products, hide for leather, and later, wool.
Morphological changes in sheep that are recognized as signs of domestication include reduction in body size, female sheep lacking horns, and demographic profiles that include large percentages of young animals.
Sheep History and DNA
Prior to DNA and mtDNA studies, several different species (urial, mouflon, argali) were hypothesized as the ancestor of modern goats look a lot alike.
Parallel DNA and mtDNA studies of European, African and Asian domestic sheep suggest that there are three major and distinct lineages. These lineages are called Type A or Asian, Type B or European, and Type C, which has been identified in modern sheep from Turkey and China. All three types are believed to have been descended from different wild ancestor species of mouflon (Ovis gmelini spp), someplace in the Fertile Crescent. A Bronze Age sheep in China was found to belong to Type B, and is thought to have been introduced into China perhaps as early as 5000 BC.
Sheep History and Archaeology
Archaeological sites with early evidence for sheep domestication include:
- Iran: Ali Kosh, Tepe Sarab, Ganj Dareh
- Iraq: Shanidar, Zawi Chemi Shanidar, Jarmo
- Turkey: Çayônu, Asikli Hoyuk, Çatalhöyük
- China: Dashanqian
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