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About Evosheep
About the Evosheep



EVOSHEEP project associates complementary approaches focusing on the practices of pastoral societies. One of the key strengths of the project is to bring together specialists from different scientific fields in order to: 1. characterize zootechnical practices and sheep breeding, 2. identify sheep types/breeds, 3. propose various scenarios according to the geographic origin, chronological and cultural framework of the emergence of physical traits of interest: horn shape, robustness, coat, hair pigmentation, fat tail, 4. assess the role of environmental and anthropogenic factors in the initial diversification of sheep types, 5. trace the exchange routes and commercial circulation of products from sheep husbandry, 6. establish the impact of the “revolution of secondary products – milk and wool” on socio-cultural systems.



The Evosheep programme is divided into 6 tasks. Each task will be coordinated by two responsibles to ensure good collaboration between partners and the follow up of the project progress. The archaeological fauna from the geographic and temporal sphere of the project will be studied to determine the pastoral practices, identify the role of sheep husbandry in the animal economy and define the production strategies (milk, meat, fleece) (Task 1). The study of iconographic and textual sources and the terminologies used will supply additional information on sheep farming, the types of sheep mentioned or illustrated in the texts and their geographic origin (Task 2). To complete the archaeozoological data and define the phenotypes of the sheep farmed in the study zone during early periods, we will use geometric morphometrics (Task 3) and molecular biology (Task 4) and rely on references of modern specimens of known breeds (Task 5). Lastly, the results obtained from the different tasks will be gathered in a database linked to a cartographic system (Task 6).



1-HERDING PRATICES (Task 1)  - The archaeozoologica  records are analysed  systematically from a geographic and diachronic point of view in order to determine the origins and the chrono-cultural range of sheep herding. It consists of:

  •  Describing the herding practices, either diversified or specialized, according to the faunal spectrum and the species frequencies

  •  Identifying the exploitation of sheep by-products by reconstructing demographic profile through kill off patterns.

  •  Highlighting morphological and metrical characteristics and establish variations of sheep size and shape through biometrical analysis

  •  Identify centre and chronological time for the intensification of sheep exploitation according to the geographic origin and the dating of the archaeological deposit

  •  Link herding strategies with economic and socio-cultural systems (integration of the historical and cultural context.

​2-– ECONOMICAL AND CULTURAL ASPECTS OF SHEEP HERDING (TEXTS & IMAGES) (Task 2). This task focuses on the Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform documentation of the 3rd and 2nd millennia and on the iconography of the Near East, in order to:

  •  Describe the chronological, economic and administrative context of sheep breeding

  •  Characterise the zootechnic practices of sheep husbandry and determine the exploitation of animal products (milk, wool, fat)

  •  Identify the physical characteristics of sheep (the (pheno-) types - cf. Tasks 3 & 4).

  •  Identify the sheep from foreign origin and date their presence.

  •  Determine the routes of exchange and trade of sheep.

​3-– DECIPHERING THE PHENOTYPIC DIVERSITY IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SHEEP (GMM METHODS) (Task 3). Based on the geometric morphometric analysis, we are identifying phenotypic differences in bones and investigating statistically the complex diversity of sheep’s phenotype within the zooarchaeological records. This task considers:

  •  Screening  the current diversity of wild and domestic Ovis over the broad geographic scale of this study collected in Task 1 and in Task 5, and explore how well the selected phenotypic markers (humerus, talus, calcaneum, petrous bones, mandibular teeth) perform at discriminating the different domestic taxa.

  •  Exploring  the patterns of diversification of the different domestic sheep populations across the whole geographic area of the study in order to decipher the different biotic and abiotic factors of sheep diversity.

  •  Using  this modern comparative model to assess first the taxonomic status of the archaeological specimens collected in Task 1 and then explore the morphological disparity of ancient sheep and their phenotypic relationships with current sheep races from the same geographic area.

​4-FORWARD GENETIC OF SHEEP (MOLECULAR ANALYSIS) (Task 4).This task works on generating a targeted dataset of ancient and present-day sheep  at the genome-wide scale in order to trace the history and evolution of domestic sheep, and contribute to the understanding of ancient herding practises. The process is to:

  •  Characterize patterns of genetic diversity within candidate genomic regions involved in the domestication process and/or the improvement traits of interest; both present-day and ancient individuals from periods and localities of interest will be analyzed.

  •  Investigate the history of Middle-East sheep by inferring the population structure underlying Bronze Age ovine types and modern populations/breeds.

5-REFERENCE COLLECTION OF MODERN SHEEP (task 5). This task consists of elaborating a new referential for sheep breeds by collecting  skeleton  of known breeds (including skulls)  mainly from Middle Eastern breeds.  French and Africain breeds are added to the corpus for comparison. We are using this collection to: 

  •  Develop protocols of geometric morphometry on selected bones (petrus bone, humerus, talus, calcaneus, metacarpus).

  •  Develop morphological, morphometric geometric  and genomic comparisons of selected modern populations (fat-tailed woolly sheep, thin-tailed woolly sheep, hairsheep)

  •  Build up reference collections for domestic animals for natural history museums and future research.

6-– DATA SHARING (Task 6: This task focuses on using tech tools in order to enhance the collaboration of all multidisciplinary project members. It consists of elaborating: 

  •  Long-term archiving of data

  •  Interface to share the results as open access data.

  •  Online database to record and analyse data and produce syntheses maps as support for the analysis.



  • The archaeozoological approach targets the reconstruction of the husbandry economy and focuses on morphologic and morphometric characteristics. It is based on the study of faunal bones from archaeological sites dating between the sixth and the first millennia B.C. in the South Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan), Anatolia, Iran, the Near East (Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Lebanon), and Eastern Africa (Egypt and Sudan).

  • The historical approach (texts and images) enables us to assess the economic and sociocultural aspects of sheep husbandry. It provides information on the physical characteristics of sheep, i.e., the diversity of phenotypes and chronological markers of their emergence. Sumerian-Akkadian texts and Mesopotamian iconography represent unique and complementary sources of information on ovine husbandry.

  • The geometric morphometrics method (GMM) enables us to morphologically differentiate the taxonomic diversity within species and sub-species, wild and domestic taxa. As it is difficult to assess phenotypic diversity in archaeozoology with classical analytical methods, the GMM method is an important approach in the project for identifying anatomic infraspecific variations. It is starting to be applied on sheep bones with promising results. Our project involves the development of protocols of acquisition with bi- and tri- dimensional analysis on a selection of bones, which are discriminating morphological markers, including the petrous bone.

  • The genetic analyses: The genetic approach aims to: (1) contrast present-day genetic variation in a large panel of breeds/populations, (2) retrace patterns of genetic variation, (3) identify the evolutionary affinities between breeds.



Our research covers the geographic scale of the Near East and Middle East, the Caucasus for a chronology from the Neolithic until the Late Bronze Age. It is completed by the study of archaeological fauna from few sites in Egypt and Sudan. 
About 103 faunal assemblages are incorporated in this project from around 50 different sites.