Southern Africans domesticated sheep 2000 Years Ago: New Palaeoproteomics Study

Researchers have discovered the earliest domesticated sheep of southern Africa. It is a significant discovery in the field of Zooarchaeology. They have safely identified this group of species using palaeoproteomics and peptide mass fingerprinting. These species of goats are around 2000 years old and an initial phase domesticated creature of South Africa.

1st First phalanx from Spoegrivier, credits : https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-85756-8 and Nature

It is usually very difficult to differentiate disconnected remains of early sheep from other indigenous wild bovids just by using the methods based on morphology. So, researchers have used various techniques such as Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) and LC–MS/MS. These techniques help in the differentiation between wild bovids and caprine domestic animals. Using these advanced methods, they have confirmed the age of the Spoegrivier specimen. It is dated to 2105 ± 65 Before Present and belongs to a sheep. As of now, it is the most primitive directly dated evidence of domesticated faunae in the region of southern Africa.

Location of samples and archaeological sites , credits : https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-85756-8 and Nature  

In the broad human history, the evolution in human subsistence from hunting & gathering to food production is one of the most significant processes. In various regions of sub-Saharan Africa, domestication of animals was done earlier than the domestication of plants.

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Domesticated sheep (Ovis aries) of North Africa found their origin in Western Asia. They were imported by humans in this region around five thousand years ago. Later, they were introduced in Southern African regions from there. There is a complete absence of wild sheep in southern Africa before this migration. So, they can be considered as the earliest animals domesticated in southern Africa.

The samples used for the dating and various analyses were derived from wood charcoal. A piece of evidence at the Toteng 1 archaeological site of northern Botswana is analyzed using the AMS technique. The resulted dates are 2020 ± 40 years Before the Present. Another sample is from the Blombos Cave. Its estimated dates are 1960±50 and 1880±55 years Before the Present. A sample of sheep phalanx from Namaqualand is dated to 2105±65 years Before the Present. It belongs to the archaeological site of Spoegrivier. As of now, it is the oldest date for domesticated animals in this region.

The current research is jointly carried out by the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, University of York, University of Cape Town, GLOBE Institute (University of Copenhagen), Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen,7McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (University of Cambridge), Department of Archaeology (University of Cape Town).

For the original research article click on Oxford University Research Archive and Nature  

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