Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology

2014 Edition
| Editors: Claire Smith

Sheep: Domestication

  • Jennifer R. S. Meadows
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2_2215

Basic Species Information

Sheep, Ovis aries, (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae, Caprinae) are a highly versatile and adaptable species. From their domestication in the Fertile Crescent, approximately 11,000 years ago, sheep now span the diverse terrains of each inhabited continent where they are exploited for a variety of uses including the production of food (milk, fat, meat) and clothing (skin, wool) (Dwyer 2008). Selection based on environmental tolerance, behavioral, and commercial traits has led to the development of more than 1,400 breeds. These designations are traditionally based upon morphology (e.g., coat color, fleece, and carcass conformation, Fig. 1). Sheep weigh between 25 kg and 160 kg depending on breed, and display significant sexual dimorphism, with males often ~40–50 % larger than females (Dwyer 2008). The key adaptations since domestication have included the selection for thicker wool coats that do not molt (hair sheep are an exception), and an increase in the...
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bunch, T.D., C. Wu, Y.P. Zhang, & S. Wang. 2006. Phylogenetic analysis of snow sheep (Ovis nivicola) and closely related taxa. Journal of Heredity 97: 21-30.Google Scholar
  2. Cai, D., Z. Tang, H. Yu, L. Han, X. Ren, X. Zhao, H. Zhu & H. Zhou. 2011. Early history of Chinese domestic sheep indicated by ancient DNA analysis of Bronze Age individuals. Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 896-902.Google Scholar
  3. Chessa, B., F. Pereira, F. Arnaud, A. Amorim, F.Goyache, I. Mainland, R.R. Kao, J.M. Pemberton, D. Beraldi, M.J. Stear, A. Alberti, M. Pittau, L. Iannuzzi, M.H. Banabazi, R.R. Kazwala, Y.P. Zhang, J.J. Arranz, B.A. Ali, Z. Wang, M. Uzun, M.M. Dione, I. Olsaker, L.E. Holm, U. Saarma, S. Ahmad, N. Marzanov, E. Eythorsdottir, M.J. Holland, P. Ajmone-Marsan, M.W. Bruford, J. Kantanen, T.E. Spencer & M. Palmarini. 2009. Revealing the history of sheep domestication using retrovirus integrations. Science 324: 532-6.Google Scholar
  4. Dwyer, C.M. 2008. Environment and the sheep, in C.M. Dwyer (ed.) The welfare of sheep: 41-79. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  5. Gifford-Gonzalez, D. & O. Hanotte. 2011. Domesticating animals in Africa: implications of genetic and archaeological findings. Journal of World Prehistory 24: 1-23.Google Scholar
  6. Haber, A. & T. Davan. 2004. Analyzing the process of domestication: Hagoshrim as a case study. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 1587-1601.Google Scholar
  7. Meadows, J.R. & J.W. Kijas. 2009. Re-sequencing regions of the ovine Y chromosome in domestic and wild sheep reveals novel paternal haplotypes. Animal Genetics 40: 119-23.Google Scholar
  8. Meadows, J.R., S. Hiendleder & J.W. Kijas. 2011. Haplogroup relationships between domestic and wild sheep resolved using a mitogenome panel. Heredity 106: 700-6.Google Scholar
  9. Tapio, M., N. Marzanov, M. Ozerov, M. Cinkulov, G. Gonzarenko, T. Kiselyova, M. Murawski, H. Viinalass & J. Kantanen. 2006. Sheep mitochondrial DNA variation in European, Caucasian, and Central Asian areas. Molecular Biology and Evolution 23: 1776-83.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Science for Life Laboratory, Department of Medical Biochemistry and MicrobiologyUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden