Size diminution can happen quite rapidly, within a few generations, if control of breeding and movement is strict, or even within a single generation if it results not from genetic change but from limited food. However, under looser herding regimes it may be very slow to appear. Therefore, another important technique for detecting ancient herding is based on the demographic changes to the population of herded animals, which can be reconstructed in archaeological assemblages from age and sex profiles. While herding practices will vary depending on the goals and wealth of the herder, no herd will last long unless the herder takes care to preserve an adequate breeding population. This means keeping a large number of females into adulthood, while males are more likely to be slaughtered early. Hunters often target prime adult animals, but herders tend to slaughter animals for meat at a younger age. Adult animals eat more and are expensive to maintain, especially through the winter when they may need to be provided with fodder. Thus an animal bone assemblage resulting from hunting wild animals will tend to have mostly adults, with males present in equal or even greater numbers than females. An assemblage derived from herded animals, on the other hand, will be dominated by younger animals. Generally only mature animals can be sexed osteologically, and these will be mostly female. Unusual hunting strategies may sometimes mimic herding, but in general this approach, combined with other supporting data, provides a good indication of domestication.

Ranges of the wild ancestors of early livestock.

Ranges of the wild ancestors of early livestock.

Since the 1900s, an additional tool has become available through the application of DNA "fingerprinting" techniques to animals. By comparing the DNA of wild and domestic animals, geneticists can establish their degree of relatedness and suggest which wild populations are ancestral to the domesticates. Using the "molecular clock" (the estimated rate of random mutations in mitochondrial DNA), they can also estimate the date at which domestic and wild populations separated. This application of genetics is in its infancy, and results are often contradictory. So far most of the studies are based on living animals, although some are beginning to include ancient DNA from archaeological bones. Studies based solely on living animals present a problem in that domestic animals have been much affected by breeding programs of the last few centuries, and wild populations have been dramatically reduced. We can expect that an increased use of ancient DNA and more cooperation between geneticists and archaeologists will soon lead to improvements in research and that DNA studies will make a major contribution to tracing the origins of domestic animals in the near future.

Herding also leads to profound changes in the human population. Caring for animals means that at least part of the human population must adapt itself to the animals’ needs: taking them to pasture, often at a distance, or providing them with fodder. Human labor must be devoted to tending the flocks, and therefore is less available for gathering, hunting, fishing, and other tasks. Domestic animals have owners, changing property relations among the people and providing a new source of wealth. Unlike other kinds of material wealth, such as metals, animal wealth is capable of reproducing and augmenting itself (although also capable of sudden and drastic loss through drought or epidemic). The wealth value of domestic animals may have been as important as their food value in the spread of herding. Finally, while it is more intangible, one of the most important changes that animal herding effected on humans may have been the alteration in worldview and ideology. The herders’ attitude of control and husbanding of resources for future benefit is likely to have had profound consequences beyond herding. Indeed, there are indications of a major shift in religion and ideology at about the time of animal domestication in the Near East, with this new view then spreading with herding into Europe and elsewhere. Briefly, occasional images of gazelles are replaced by a proliferation of imagery of bulls and human females. This new imagery has been interpreted in various ways, most stressing a new concern with either fertility or dominance of the natural world (and perhaps of the human world as well). There is debate about whether the adoption of herding brought about this shift, or whether the change in attitude came first and made animal domestication thinkable, but it is clear that the two are closely linked.


Sheep and goats appear to have been the first livestock to be domesticated, at roughly the same time (about 10,000 years ago), in the Near East. While they soon became linked in a mixed herding economy, they appear to have been domesticated separately in different locations.

Domestic sheep (Ovisaries) are descended from the Asiatic mouflon (Ovis orientalis). The mouflon found on Mediterranean islands are not native, but are actually feral descendents of early domestic sheep brought by Neolithic settlers. Wild mouflon inhabited the foothills and lower mountain slopes from central Anatolia through the northern Levant to Iran. The earliest occurrence of domesticated sheep is often given as about 11,000 b.c. at Zawi Chemi Shanidar in Iraq. However, this claim, based on an early application of demographic techniques, is now rejected by specialists. At present, solid evidence of sheep domestication first appears in the northern Levant region (Syria and southeast Turkey) at about 7500 b.c., although there are some indications that the process may have begun there somewhat earlier. Both genetic and archaeological evidence support an independent domestication in South Asia at roughly the same time, but these sheep are of less relevance to Europe.

There have been claims for independent local domestication of sheep in southern France and Iberia, but it is now clear that these are based on either mixing of deposits from different periods or misi-dentified ibex and chamois. With no good evidence for wild ancestors in Europe, the sheep of the early farmers can confidently be considered domestic livestock. These early sheep would have looked very much like the wild mouflon. They were a little smaller, and the horns were reduced, especially in females. Like the mouflon, they lacked wool, having a brown, hairy coat. Mouflon and early domesticates have a short woolly undercoat in the winter that is shed in the spring. Woolliness, attested by artistic depictions and textile remains, first appears about 3000 b.c. Thus the sheep of Europe’s first farmers were used for meat. Demographic profiles suggest that sheep’s milk was not consumed in significant amounts at this point in time, either.

The wild ancestor of domestic goats (Capra hircus) is the bezoar goat (Capra aegagrus). The range of the wild goat is similar to that of the mouflon, but it tends to occupy higher and more rugged terrain. Bezoar goats do not occur in Europe. Just as with sheep, the animals that were once believed to have been a wild subspecies of the goat on Crete are now known to be descended from domesticated bezoar goats. The closely related ibex (Capra ibex and, in the Pyrenees, C. pyrenaica) is found in Europe and has sometimes complicated identifications. The ibex, however, has never been domesticated. Demographic evidence from bone assemblages indicates that goats were domesticated in the Zagros Mountains region of Iran and Iraq (somewhat east of the area of sheep domestication) at about 8000 b.c.; changes in horn shape twisting followed slightly later. Genetic evidence suggests that while there may have been two additional domestications (or additions ofwild females to domestic flocks), these were much later.

By at least 7300 b.c. and possibly earlier, domestic sheep and probably domestic goats were present in central Anatolia, and their bones exhibit size reduction from the wild form. It is not yet known whether these animals spread from the apparent center of domestication to the east or whether they were independently domesticated locally. In any case, this is likely to have been the ultimate source area for European domestic sheep and goats.


The wild ancestor of cattle (Bos taurus), the aurochs (Bos primigenius), has been extinct since 1627. In contrast to sheep and goats, the aurochs (plural: aurochsen) was widespread across the northern Old World, ranging across most of Europe and Asia as well as North Africa (fig. 1). Thus there were potentially more areas in which cattle could have been domesticated. Genetic evidence suggests two independent domestication events, in the Near East or Europe (taurine cattle) and in South Asia (zebu). Some have also claimed an independent domestication in North Africa, but the evidence is so far not definitive. The archaeological evidence does support domestication events in South Asia and in Europe or the Near East, but the details of domestication in the western area remain unclear. All evidence suggests that cattle domestication followed that of sheep and goats (except perhaps in Africa). This is not surprising, considering that the aurochs was a large and dangerous animal with huge horns.

£atal Huyuk, a Neolithic site in central Anatolia (7300-6200 b.c.), has been cited as a center of cattle domestication, on the basis of limited data from a preliminary report in the 1960s. However, work at the site in the 1990s has shown that the cattle here were wild. There is suggestive but not definitive evidence for domestic cattle in southeast Anatolia (£ayonu) at about 8500 b.c. and in the Levant about 7500 b.c. Cattle were transported to Cyprus (where they were not part of the native fauna) by 8000 b.c. Although this demonstrates their importance to the human colonists, it does not necessarily mean they were herded. Neolithic settlers brought many animal species to Cyprus, some of which seem to have been left to run wild and then hunted (e.g., fallow deer). The introduction of cattle was ultimately unsuccessful. Cattle disappeared from Cyprus within a few centuries and did not reappear until the Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age (by then they were clearly domestic). Domestic cattle appeared in western Anatolia and in Greece by 6800-6500 b.c., but without a sequence indicating local domestication. Although eastern Anatolia seems the most likely location of initial cattle domestication, further research is needed.


Domestic pigs and their ancestor, the wild boar, are usually placed in the same species (Sus scrofa). The range of wild boar is similar to that of cattle, and the history of pig domestication is even less well known, although new research (particularly by the group headed by Keith Dobney at the University of Durham) may ameliorate this situation. Genetic evidence supports separate origins for European and Asian domestic pigs, but as of 2003, it cannot yet address how many domestication events occurred or locate them more precisely. Archaeological evidence supports separate domestication in China and in Europe or the Near East, with eastern Anatolia the most likely candidate in the latter area. This is the only part of the Near East where pigs are abundant at early archaeological sites. Pig domestication has been claimed at Hallan £emi in eastern Anatolia at about 10,000 b.c., a site otherwise lacking domestic plants and animals. The evidence presented as of 2003 is less than fully convincing, however. There is somewhat more convincing but still less than definitive size and demographic evidence from nearby £ayonu at about 8500 b.c., accompanied by cereal agriculture. By 7000 b.c., pigs in the domestic size range appeared in the Levant, and by 6800 b.c. in Greece. While it is possible that pigs were domesticated independently in Europe, and occasional claims have been made to this effect (e.g., the Crimean region, southern Scandinavia, Iberia), the evidence is weak. Eastern Anatolia is currently the only area that approximates a sequence of intensive use and progressive change in size and demography.


As outlined above, evidence indicates that the livestock of Europe’s first farmers derived from animals domesticated in the Near East. In Europe, herding spread together with plant agriculture. Roughly speaking, mixed farming spread from southeast to northwest, with an additional early route along the borders of the Mediterranean on the south.

Southeast Europe. This area includes Greece and the Balkans and extends slightly into Hungary. The earliest sites with domesticates are in Greece, mainly in Thessaly and Greek Macedonia. Even at these first sites, starting about 7000 b.c., all four herd animals were present. Sheep and goats, especially sheep, predominated in these Mediterranean zones. About a thousand years later, farmers and their herds expanded into the northern Balkans. Although cattle and pigs later become more numerous in these temperate zones, to which they are much better adapted than sheep and goats, the earliest farmers for the most part raised mainly sheep and goats, retaining the Mediterranean pattern. This likely reflects different uses for the small and large stock, with sheep and goats providing daily meat and cattle reserved largely for feasts and sacrifices. There may have been initial resistance to using cattle as an ordinary meat supply.

Rock carving of Neolithic cattle.

Fig. 1. Rock carving of Neolithic cattle.

Southwest Europe. Early farmers and their livestock reached Italy, southern France, and Iberia at about the same time as the northern Balkans, following a coastal route. The occurrence of small numbers of domestic sheep and goats in Mesolithic (hunter-gatherer) deposits has led to claims of local domestication. As noted above, these can be dismissed since the region is now known to be outside the range of the wild ancestors. Another interpretation is that these animals were acquired by local hunter-gatherers from nearby farming communities, whether through exchange, bridewealth, or theft. This remains a definite possibility, but as of 2003 the evidence derived from multiperiod cave sites and could also be interpreted as the result of postdepositional mixing of sediments. At many sites the domestic fauna is limited to sheep and goats. However, the early Neolithic is known almost entirely from cave sites, which may have been special-purpose herding camps not representing the full range of activities. The few open sites that have been excavated also include domestic cattle and pigs. It would appear, then, that early livestock arrived in southwest Europe as a package but that the herding regime of sheep and goats differed from that of cattle and pigs. The cave sites suggest seasonal movement of the small stock to upland grazing.

Central Europe. Mixed farming expanded from the northern edge of southeast Europe into central Europe at about 5500 b.c. All four herd animals are present at these early sites, with cattle predominating. By this time cattle had also become more prominent in the assemblages of the source area in temperate southeast Europe. Ceramic sieves that may have been used in cheesemaking (perhaps this will ultimately be confirmed by evolving techniques of residue analysis) suggest that dairying played some role in herding. Domestic pigs are present but scarce in these Early Neolithic (Linearbandkeramik, or LBK) assemblages. Since this was prime habitat for pigs, this scarcity probably reflects a cultural devaluation rather than economic necessity. Indeed they gain importance through time in this region.

Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe here refers roughly to the European portion of the former Soviet Union, although the focus is on the area north of the Black Sea (modern Ukraine and vicinity). Agriculture and herding came much later to the north, only with the Bronze Age or even later. North of the Black Sea lies a region of steppe, cut by major rivers running roughly north-south: the Bug, the Dnieper, and the Dniester. Before the domestication of the horse, the steppe zone was difficult for people to settle. Thus agriculture and herding appeared first in the river valleys. Starting at about 6000 b.c., the Mesolithic hunting and gathering groups who already occupied these valleys began to acquire domestic animals, mostly cattle and pigs, from their Neolithic neighbors in southeast and central Europe. Evidence as of 2003 suggests that this was much more a gradual process of adoption than a migration of incoming farmers.

Northwest Europe. Farming and herding reached the Atlantic fringe of Europe (Brittany, the Netherlands, southern Scandinavia, and Britain) only about 4000 b.c. The livestock consisted of cattle, pigs, and sheep, with cattle predominating in the earlier Neolithic. Many of the faunal assemblages studied are from ceremonial sites and may not reflect daily consumption patterns. On the other hand, they indicate the importance of cattle, in particular, in feasts and rituals. In 2003, residue analysis of British Neolithic pottery confirmed what had been argued (somewhat controversially) on the basis of demographic data: that cattle were used for dairy production as well as for meat. There is debate about the roles of colonization by farmers from Central Europe versus adoption of "neolithic" traits by the substantial populations of local hunter-gatherers. In any case, it is fair to say that the local Mesolithic population played an active and important part in the transition to agriculture and herding. Particularly in southern Scandinavia, there may have been an extended period of gradual adoption of herding, initially on a small scale.


The livestock of Europe’s first farmers—comprising sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle—was almost certainly derived from animals domesticated in the Near East, although later interbreeding with local wild or tamed cattle and pigs may have occurred. These four animals spread as a package, along with cereal agriculture from southeast Europe, gradually through the rest of the continent. The earlier farmers in southern Europe tended to raise mostly sheep and goats, even where these were ill-suited to the local environment. Later farmers, including the first farmers to reach central, eastern, and northwest Europe, switched to cattle as the primary herd animal.

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