Meta-analysis of zooarchaeological data from SW Asia and SE Europe provides insight into the origins and spread of animal husbandry

James Conolly, Sue Colledge, Keith Dobney, Jean-Denis Vigne, Joris Peters, Barbara Stopp, Katie Manning, Stephen Shennan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Citations (Scopus)


Identifying spatial and temporal variation in animal exploitation patterns is essential for building our understanding of the transition from hunting to stock-keeping. Quantitative analysis of the published records of over 400,000 animal bones recovered from 114 archaeological sites from SW Asia and SE Europe from c12 ka to c7.5 ka cal BP (thousands of calibrated radiocarbon years before present) demonstrates significant spatiotemporal variability in faunal exploitation patterns. Sites in the Euphrates region show adoption of domestic taxa by c10.5 ka cal BP, although on average these taxa contribute less than 10% to total assemblage size. This rises to a median of about 40% by c9.5 ka cal BP, and then to about 45% of total NISP by c8.5 ka cal BP. By c10.5 ka in the Tigris and Zagros region domesticates contribute less than 5% to faunal assemblages, but then rise to a median of about 20% by c9.5 ka and 40% by c8.4 ka cal BR In contrast, Levantine sites have low numbers of domestic taxa (< 1%) until c8.8 ka cal BP, when the proportion dramatically increases to a median of about 35%. This apparent delayed-adoption pattern also holds true for the southern Levant, which shows, on average, low levels (< 1%) of domestic taxa until 8.8 ka cal BP, at which point domesticates contribute a median of about 10% to assemblages. In the northern parts of SW Asia, the mid- to late-10th millennium cal BP is pivotal, as proportions of domestic taxa show a dramatic increase in frequency during this time, and the 'package' of domestic sheep, goat, cattle and pig becomes more firmly established. This sets the trend for sites of the 9th millennium and the appearance of Neolithic communities in SE Europe from the 8th millennium cal BP onwards, from which point domestic animals are ubiquitous in faunal assemblages. (c) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)538-545
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number3
Early online date20 Oct 2010
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • zooarchaeology
  • domestication
  • livestock
  • mitochondrial-DNA analysis
  • cattle
  • sheep
  • wild
  • agriculture
  • management
  • demography


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