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Sorting the sheep from the goats in the Pastoral Neolithic: morphological and biomolecular approaches at Luxmanda, Tanzania

Abstract

Large-scale reconstructions of the spread of food production systems require fine-scale analyses of dietary evidence. One current impediment to understanding early African pastoralism is a lack of high-resolution portraits of herd management, specifically with respect to sheep (Ovis aries) and goat (Capra hircus), osteologically similar but behaviorally distinct caprines. In this study, we argue for the anthropological relevance of distinguishing sheep and goat remains in African pastoralist contexts, commenting upon implications for ecological settings and pastoralists’ strategies for production and risk management. We explain why sheep/goat distinction is rare in African zooarchaeological studies, particularly in comparison to Southwest Asia. We then apply three methods to distinguish caprines in an archaeofaunal sample from the Pastoral Neolithic site of Luxmanda, Tanzania, dated to c. 3000 BP: morphological identifications by two independent analysts, collagen-peptide mass fingerprinting (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry, ZooMS), and carbon stable isotope analyses. A comparative assessment of the results demonstrates the ability of biomolecular methods to improve resolution of faunal records, particularly where preservation is poor. We call for wider application of these methods to legacy collections, in order to refine existing regional models for the spread of herding in Africa, and to better understand ancient pastoralists’ herd-management decisions.

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Notes

  1. “Indigenous” refers to unimproved breeds, rather than implying that the domestic goat and sheep are indigenous to Africa. Selective breeding of sheep and goat (i.e., breed improvement) has increased over the past few centuries and has involved introductions of breeds from other world regions.

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Acknowledgments

Fieldwork at Luxmanda was conducted in collaboration with Drs. Audax Mabulla and Agness Gidna of the National Museum of Tanzania. Permission to excavate in 2015 was granted by the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (2015-119-ER-2012-50) and by the Division of Antiquities of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism; the latter also gave permission to export faunal samples (License 03/2015/2016). We are grateful to our team members and University of Wisconsin–La Crosse field school students, and in particular to Gemma Zahradka for her assistance with faunal analysis. We thank Aradhna Tripati, Ben Elliot, Dyke Andreasen, and Colin Carney for the laboratory support. We gratefully acknowledge Shaw Badenhorst and two anonymous reviewers, whose comments on an earlier version of this manuscript improved the final product.

Funding

Funding for the 2015 field season and for some lab analyses was provided by a Faculty Research Grant (FRG) to KMG and by the College of Liberal Studies at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. Additional lab analyses were funded by a grant to MEP from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and by a grant to AJ from the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California Los Angeles. MB was supported by a Royal Society fellowship.

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Correspondence to Mary E. Prendergast.

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Online Resource 1

Pastoral Neolithic sites with published faunal data including remains of caprines, as illustrated in Fig. 1. (XLSX 14 kb)

Online Resource 2

(XLSX 10 kb)

Online Resource 3

(XLSX 14 kb)

Online Resource 4

(XLSX 16 kb)

Online Resource 5

Complete dataset with morphological, ZooMS, and isotopic identifications, and comparisons among these lines of evidence. (XLSX 17 kb)

Online Resource 6

NISP and MNI values for caprines based upon morphological analyses of A1 and A2, and based upon integrated morphological and biomolecular analyses. See Tables 1, 2 and Online Resource 5 for further details. (XLSX 9 kb)

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Prendergast, M.E., Janzen, A., Buckley, M. et al. Sorting the sheep from the goats in the Pastoral Neolithic: morphological and biomolecular approaches at Luxmanda, Tanzania. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 3047–3062 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-0737-0

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Keywords

  • Zooarchaeology
  • Pastoralism
  • Stable isotopes
  • ZooMS
  • Collagen fingerprinting