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14th International Council for Archaeozoology Conference
Time & Location
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Cairns, Australia
About the Event

14th ICAZ (International Council for Archaeozoology Conference) 
8-12 August 2023 // Cairns, Australia

Session organized by E. Vila*, J. Chahoud*°, M. Mashkour**
Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool? Sheep Throughout the Ages and Continents

*Archéorient, CNRS, Université Lyon 2, France
ArcheoSciences, Lebanese University, Beirut, Lebanon
**AASPE UMR 7209, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, CNRS, Paris, France & Archaeozoological section, Bioarchaeological laboratory, University of Tehran, Iran  — –

The domestication of the sheep, among the first species to be bred, is one of the most important events in human history. The integration of this animal in the herding systems through time has been fundamental for many civilizations. Still today this animal has an important economic role and is a major food ressource for human populations.

The sheep spread from the natural distribution of the Asian mouflon (Ovis orientalis), and acclimatized to the different geo-climatic entities of the globe, due to its great adaptability.  In fact, it is present at different latitudes and altitudes with various climates from cold and dry to hot and humid and various vegetation composed of C3 to C4 plants. As a result, the sheep has colonized all continents and is currently one of the most widespread livestock species in the world. 

The phenotypic plasticity of the sheep in response to the pressure of environmental factors and human selection seems to have been one of the vectors that favored the establishment of its breeding in all types of habitats. 

The development of archaeozoology and new analytical tools, such as geometric morphometrics, genomics, proteomics, isotope, trace element analyses, dental microwear texture analysis, etc., has led to considerable advances in research on sheep and sheep farming in recent years. 

The session aims to bring together papers on the diffusion of domestic sheep,  the modalities and rhythms of herding (mobile pastoralism, transhumance, control of birth seasonality, foddering), the emergence of breeds and the quest of various byproducts such as wool.  


Oral Papers

1- Sheep size in the Catalan pre-Pyrenees from the Iron Age to High Middle Ages: new data and some reflections

Karl Cajtak*, David Asensio*, Ramon Cardona°, Jordi Morer de Llorens°°, Jordi Nadal*, Silvia Valenzuela-Lamas°°°
*Universitat de Barcelona, Spain
Centre d'Estudis Lacetans,  Spain
Mon IberRocs, Barcelona, Spain
CSIC-IMF,  Barcelona, Spain – – – – – 

In this paper we discuss domestic sheep biometric data and its evolution from the Iron Age to the High Middle Ages at the site of Sant Esteve d’Olius in the Solsonès, and we contextualize it with data from the surrounding areas (present-day Catalonia). The site stands out for its evolution from a secondary urban nucleus in the Iron Age to an ecclesiastical settlement in the High Middle Ages. Data from this site fills a geographic gap in the zooarchaeological analysis of Northern Iberia between the coastal lands and the Occidental plain, and suggests size variation between the two periods, which has previously been interpreted as reflecting changes in the socio-political structure and the food production system (Nieto-Espinet et al. 2021). The biometrical analysis opens the way for a better understanding of the changes and potential ruptures in the relationship between humans, sheep and their shared environment in a region typical of high caprine consumption and seasonal movements of livestock (transhumance), but also characterized by significant upheavals in its political structure and the associated livestock production system over the millennia covered. Such changes in the zooarchaeological data reveals the importance of the politico-economical structure on animal husbandry, food consumption and the livelihood of ancient peoples.


2- Searching for a GMM standardised protocol for sheep astragalus. First attempts, first problems and first conclusions

Lídia Colominas*, Allowen Evin**, Ashleigh Haruda***, Nadja Pöllath°, Manon Vuillien°°
*Institut Català d'Arqueologia Clàssica, Barcelona, Spain
**Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution–Montpellier, UMR 5554 -ISEM, CNRS, IRD, EPHE, France
***University of Oxford,University of Copenhagen, Denmark
°Staatssammlung für Paläoanatomie München/Staatliche Naturwissenschaftliche Sammlungen Bayerns & ArchaeoBioCenter LMU, Munich, Germany
°°Côte d’Azur University, Cultures & Environnements: Préhistoire, Antiquité et Moyen-Âge (CEPAM) UMR 7264, CNRS, Nice, France –  – – – 

With the increased application of geometric morphometric approaches, different protocols for the same bone and species have been published. We attested this on the 8th ICAZ AGPM Working Group meeting (Paris, 2019) in which we presented together three different landmark protocols to study sheep astragalar phenotypic variability and more protocols have been appearing since then. Therefore, there is a growing necessity to standardize the protocols and also to properly investigate the biological variables that are captured on this bone. 

In this paper we present our first attempts at identifying an optimal protocol for measuring the sheep (Ovis aries) astragalus while also controlling for variation between acquisition technology, two- and three-dimensional recording, and interoperator variation.  


3 - A Surprisingly Early Date for Sheep Remains in Mt Gambier Sinkholes, South Australia Status : Processing

Julien Louys*, Meg Walker*,  Rachel Wood**,  Stewart Fallon***, Mathieu Duval°, Carli Peters°°, Nicole Boivin°°

* Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

** Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, UK
***Radiocarbon Facility, Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia 
°Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), Burgos, Spain
°°Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, Jena, Germany – – – – – 

The recovery of European domesticate remains from the sinkholes and underwater caves of Mt Gambier, South Australia, provides us with a unique opportunity to examine taphonomic and diagenetic processes on faunal remains in underwater settings within a timeframe constrained by European settlement of the continent in 1788. Here, we report surprisingly early radiocarbon dates for a sheep jawbone from Gouldens Hole, a popular dive location situated just outside the township of Mt Gambier. The mandible was recovered from the sediment-water interface at a depth of 11.1 m and identified based on morphological characters. Subsequent ZooMS analysis recovered markers consistent with the subfamily Caprinae but excluded goats. Taphonomic and electron spin resonance analysis of the sheep mandible are ongoing, but four radiocarbon dates, two each of the 4th premolar and 1st molar, indicate animal death perhaps as early as the 1740s, with a smaller probability it could date as late as 1814. In contrast, the earliest historical or geological evidence of European settlement of south-eastern South Australia dates to around 1840. The sheep remains could represent an early and very quick southern incursion of escaped sheep from the first pastoral activities in New South Wales. Alternatively, they may be an example of bovines left on the coast for visiting or shipwrecked sailors. In either case, the sheep was most likely part of an early feral population. Our results thus suggest that detrimental impacts from feral sheep populations may have been ongoing and widespread since first European arrival in Australia. 


4 - Link, Exchanges and Homogenization of Sheep Between Iron Age and Antiquity in the North Western Mediterranean Basin

Marine Jeanjean*, Cyprien Mureau*, Silvia Valenzuela-Lamas**, Ariadna Nieto Espinet***, Armelle Gardeisen°, Carole Lespes°, Lidia Colominas°°, Audrey Renaud°, Sergio Jimenez-Manchon°°, Isabelle Rodet-Belarbi°°°, Maria Sana Segui*°, Allowen Evin*

*Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution de Montpellier UMR 5554 - ISEM, CNRS
IMF-CSIC, Barcelona, Spain
***Grup d'Investigació Prehistòrica (GIP), Departament d'Història, Universidad de Lleida
°Archéologie des Sociétés Méditerranéennes UMR 5140, 
Université Paul Valéry, CNRS, MCC, Montpellier, France
Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica, Tarragona, Spain
Inrap - Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives, Nice, France
*°Departament de Prehistòria, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona? Spain –  – – – – – – – – – – 

The transition between Iron Age and Antiquity, with the beginning of the Roman Empire, is marked by many changes, which are reflected in animal morphologies. The study of these morphological changes, relatively well known for cattle, have received less attention for sheep. In the framework of the ERC DEMETER project ‘Eight millennia of changes in domestic plants and animals: understanding local adaptation under socio-economic and climatic fluctuation’, we explore the morphometric evolution of domestic mammals since the Neolithic. In this framework we developed tools for improving the morphometric identification of sheep and goat based on their third molars, and use geometric morphometric approaches to decipher their fine-scale temporal and spatial variation. 

Here we focus on the environmental and cultural factors that have shaped the diversity of sheep and their evolution through time between the Rhône and the Ebre river during the Iron Age and Antiquity. 

A total of 780 third lower molars originating from more than 85 sites from the North-Western Mediterranean basin (Catalonia and South of France) were studied through the use of geometric morphometrics, with a combined 2D landmarks and semi-landmark slidings approach. The results show morphometric changes through time, as documented in the literature, but also over space. This work will help better understand the links between the different areas of Languedoc and Catalonia, and their evolution through time.


5 – Molecular Archaeological Study of Domestic Sheep Remains Excavated from Changning Site 

Guangjie Song et al.
Jilin University, China

Changning Site, a large-scale settlement of Qijia Culture (4,200-3,800 BP), is located in the Huangshui Basin of eastern Qinghai Province in China. Qijia Culture was in the middle of transition from Neolithic Age to Bronze Age, during which cultural features, social forms, and livelihood patterns of ancient people were changed significantly. The site is an important route for western domestic animals into the Central Plain in China. In this research, the Next Generation Sequencing was used in analyzing whole mitochondrial genomes from sheep remains excavated from Changning Site. Two lineages (A and B) were observed in sheep remains of Changning Site, with lineage A occupying a dominant position, demonstrating relatively low genetic diversity in early domestic sheep population. Phylogenetic analysis showed a continuity of genetic structure in Chinese sheep. It offers fresh clues and ideas on expounding the origin and diffusion process of Chinese ancient domestic sheep. 


6 – Exploring the Morphometric Characteristics of sheep breeds in the Ancient Near East.

Emmanuelle Vila*, Jwana Chahoud*°, Sofiane Bouzid*, Moussab Albesso*, Agraw Amane**, Bea de Cupere***, Hossein Davoudi+, Homa Fathi+, Azadeh Mohaseb°°+, Marjan Mashkour°°+

Archéorient, UMR 5133, CNRS, University of Lyon 2, France
° Department of Archaeology, Lebanese University, Lebanon
** Department of Microbial, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & ILRI, Livestock Genetics Program, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
***Directorate Earth and History of Life, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Belgium
+ Archaeozoological section, Bioarchaeological laboratory, University of Tehran, Iran
°°AASPE, UMR 7209, National Natural History Museum, CNRS, Paris, France

The multidisciplinary project Evosheep studies the origin and evolution of ancient sheep breeds by means of archaeozoology, geometric morphometrics, genetics, iconography, and epigraphy in the ancient Near East from the sixth millennium BCE. This approach conducted on ancient breeds is completed by work on modern breeds from Near and Middle East and East Africa to provide new biometric and genetic reference records more adequate than European races for further scientific research. This osteological reference offers a measurement baseline for comparison with the archaeological data to explore the diversity patterns of the different domestic sheep populations across the Ancient Near East.  This paper compares the diversity of sizes, allometry, and body parts proportions of sheep from archaeological assemblages using the Log Size Index, the Log Shape Ratio, and multivariate analyses. This study will focus on Chalcolithic and Bronze Age sites from the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran, and South Caucasus.



1 – How ‘Shaun the sheep’ looked like in the past? Evolution and archaeological diversity of sheep morphotypes in Southwest Asia.

Manon Vuillien*, Marjan Mashkour**+, Jwana Chahoud***/, Moussab Albesso***, Agraw Amane°, Remi Berthon**, Sofiane Bouzid***, Bea de Cupere°°, Hossein Davoudi+, Homa Fathi+, Daniel Helmer***, Joséphine Lesur**, Azadeh Mohaseb**+, Adeline Vautrin**, Lionel Gourichon*, Thomas Cucchi**, Emmanuelle Vila***

* University Côte d’Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, UMR 7264, Nice, France
** AASPE, UMR 7209, National Natural History Museum, CNRS, Paris, France
+ Archaeozoological section, Bioarchaeological laboratory, University of Tehran, Iran
*** Archéorient, UMR 5133, CNRS, University of Lyon 2, France
/ Department of Archaeology, Lebanese University, Lebanon
° Department of Microbial, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & ILRI, Livestock Genetics Program, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
°° Directorate Earth and History of Life, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Belgium

Sheep husbandry has played a leading role in the economy of human societies over the last ten millennia. While archaeological research focused on the study of early husbandry practices, little is known about the emergence and morphological evolution of sheep breeds. To what extent ancient sheep bones could help to understand this change and identify the factors behind it?

To answer these questions, we used 3D geometric morphometrics methods on 260 astragali of modern and archaeological sheep from Southwest Asia and East Africa. Ancient sheep bones have been recovered from forty-two archaeological sites covering seven millennia of economic and cultural transformations between the 8th and the 1st millennium BC.

We have explored morphometric diversity of sheep bones, first according to biotic and abiotic factors on well-documented modern osteological collections and second, according to environmental, chronological, and socio-economical contexts on modern and ancient bones. Our first results indicate significant differences in the variation of astragalus shape between modern and archaeological sheep in correlation with ecological and chronocultural factors.  


2 – The Sheep Timeline of Estonia, North-Eastern Europe 

Eve Rannamäe*, Riina Rammo*, Ülle Aguraiuja-Lätti**, Matthew Teasdale***

* Institute of History and Archaeology, University of Tartu, Estonia
** Archaeological Research Collection, Tallinn University
***McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, UK

This presentation gives a chronological summary of sheep (Ovis aries) in Estonia, north-eastern Europe. First domestic livestock (most probably including the sheep) were introduced to this corner of Europe in around 2700 BCE, but only from the Late Bronze Age forward around 800 BCE, we see the actual start of livestock husbandry and the reliance on cattle, sheep, goat, and pig in human subsistence. In the recent years, zooarchaeological research in Estonia has focused on sheep in several questions. Skeletal remains have been studied for meat consumption, linear morphometrics, genetics (mitochondrial DNA, SNP data, ancient retroviruses), and stable isotopes (d15N, d13C). On the other hand, wool has been studied through textile finds by microscopy in order to characterise the fibre composition in terms of thickness. Archaeological analysis has been combined with genetic and morphometric data from a present-day native breed, with results clearly showing affinities between the past and modern populations, and helping to conserve the endangered native breed of today. In this poster, we draw together all the main milestones and data we know about Estonian sheep and their products and keeping so far, in both prehistoric and historical times.


3 – Colonial Sydney Sheep: Using Geometric Morphometrics to Examine Potential Cranium Shape Differences
Tanja Nussbaumer*, Melanie Fillios*
* University of New England, Armidale, Australia

Sheep and the wool industry played a crucial role in the development of colonial Australia and its economy. Despite the availability of colonial Australian sheep remains, very little archaeological research actually focuses on this important context. This research is part of an ongoing study which aims to create detailed life histories of colonial Sydney sheep using multidisciplinary approaches. This poster focuses on Geometric morphometrics (GM), an analytical tool for categorising and comparing physical features through the use of consistent landmarks. The aim was to use GM analyses on sheep craniums to identify potential shape differences within the assemblage and relate this to the management practices and early breeds utilised in early colonial Sydney. While in this case GM on the cranial morphology was unable to note potential skeletal changes associated with the sheep industry (e.g. increased wool yields), it did prove useful for Australian colonial contexts by identifying specific outliers to be further examined and tested as a possible separate breed.