African Archaeological Review

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 39–50

The Origin of African Sheep: Archaeological and Genetic Perspectives

Review Article


Indigenous African sheep genetic resources have been classified into two main groups, fat-tailed and thin-tailed sheep. The fat-tailed sheep are the most widely distributed, being found in a large part of North Africa (from Egypt to Algeria) and in Eastern and Southern Africa (from Eritrea to South Africa). The thin-tailed sheep are present mainly in Morocco, Sudan and in West Africa. African sheep were domesticated outside Africa. They share a common ancestry with European and Asian sheep. Archaeological information supports separate introductions and dispersion histories for the African thin-tailed and fat-tailed sheep. The first sheep entered Africa via the Isthmus of Suez and/or the southern Sinai Peninsula, between 7500 and 7000 BP. They were likely of the thin-tailed type. Fat-tailed sheep entered Africa through its northeastern part and the Horn of Africa. Mitochondrial DNA analysis supports a common maternal ancestral origin for all African sheep, while autosomal and Y chromosome DNA analysis indicates a distinct genetic history for African thin-tailed and sub-Saharan fat-tailed sheep. The main ancestral population of southern African fat-tailed sheep likely originated in East Africa. Further work is needed to assess the possible dispersion of sheep from western Africa to the southern African regions.


Africa Indigenous sheep Origin Migration Genetic relationships 


Les ressources génétiques africaines du mouton sont classifiées en deux groupes principaux, les moutons à queue grasse et les moutons à queue fine. Les moutons à queue grasse ont la distribution géographique la plus étendue, se rencontrant dans une grande partie de l’Afrique du Nord (depuis l’Égypte jusqu’à l’Algérie), et dans les régions les plus à l’est et au sud de l’Afrique (de l’Érythrée à l’Afrique du Sud). Les moutons à queue fine sont présents principalement au Maroc, au Soudan et en Afrique de l’Ouest. Les moutons africaines ont été domestiqués en dehors de l’Afrique. Ils partagent un ancêtre commun avec les moutons asiatiques et européens. Les informations archéologiques supportent une introduction distincte et une histoire de dispersion en partie séparée pour les moutons à queue grasse et à queue fine sur le continent. Les premiers moutons sont arrivés en Afrique par l’Isthme de Suez et/ou le sud de la Péninsule du Sinaï, entre 7500 et 7000 BP. Ils étaient probablement du type mouton à queue fine. Les moutons à queue grasse entrèrent en Afrique par le nord-est du continent et la corne de l’Afrique. Les résultats de l’ADN mitochondrial supportent une origine ancestrale maternelle commune pour tous les moutons africaines, tandis que les données des autosomes et du chromosome Y indiquent une histoire génétique distincte pour les moutons à queue grasse et à queue fine. La population ancestrale principale des moutons à queue grasse du sud du continent est probablement originaire de l’est de l’Afrique. Des études supplémentaires sont nécessaires pour attester la dispersion possible du mouton de l’Afrique de l’Ouest jusqu’au sud du continent.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and TechnologyNairobiKenya
  2. 2.School of Biology, Centre for Genetics and GenomicsUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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