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Evidence for early dispersal of domestic sheep into Central Asia


The development and dispersal of agropastoralism transformed the cultural and ecological landscapes of the Old World, but little is known about when or how this process first impacted Central Asia. Here, we present archaeological and biomolecular evidence from Obishir V in southern Kyrgyzstan, establishing the presence of domesticated sheep by ca. 6,000 BCE. Zooarchaeological and collagen peptide mass fingerprinting show exploitation of Ovis and Capra, while cementum analysis of intact teeth implicates possible pastoral slaughter during the fall season. Most significantly, ancient DNA reveals these directly dated specimens as the domestic O. aries, within the genetic diversity of domesticated sheep lineages. Together, these results provide the earliest evidence for the use of livestock in the mountains of the Ferghana Valley, predating previous evidence by 3,000 years and suggesting that domestic animal economies reached the mountains of interior Central Asia far earlier than previously recognized.

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Fig. 1: Modeled dispersal of domestic animals into Central Asia.
Fig. 2: Stratigraphic profile of Obishir V.
Fig. 3: Identification of animal remains at Obishir V by ZooMS.
Fig. 4: Cementum analysis of sheep and goat remains from Obishir V.
Fig. 5: PCA results of Obishir V sheep and goat samples.
Fig. 6: Phylogenetic tree produced using maximum parsimony.

Data availability

Shotgun sequencing raw files are available at the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) database under accession number PRJEB41594.


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The authors thank D. Paul and S. Palstra for performing radiocarbon dating of tooth enamel, and E. Rannamäe for assistance with manuscript preparation. Cementum analyses were funded through the CemeNTAA project, via the French National Agency for Research (ANR-14-CE31-0011). Geological investigations were supported by the National Science Center, Poland (grant no. 2018/29/B/ST10/00906). Sampling for ZooMS, DNA and radiocarbon analysis (Golden Valley Laboratory) and lithic analysis of Obishir V were supported by RSF project no. 19-78-10053, ‘The emergence of food-producing economies in the high mountains of interior Central Asia’. Ancient DNA analyses were conducted with the support of the palaeogenomic platform from the UMR5199 PACEA Universite de Bordeaux and the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 804884-DAIRYCULTURES. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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W.T.T.T. and S.Sh. designed the research, collected data, conducted analysis and wrote the manuscript. M.P., C.P., A.A., W.R., C.J., T.H., and C.W. collected data, conducted analysis and helped to write the manuscript. M.T.K., G.B., S.Sc., G.H., R.Sp., R.St., J.M., A.S., S.F., L.O., K.D. and A.K. collected data, conducted analysis and assisted in data interpretation. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to William T. T. Taylor or Svetlana Shnaider.

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Taylor, W.T.T., Pruvost, M., Posth, C. et al. Evidence for early dispersal of domestic sheep into Central Asia. Nat Hum Behav (2021).

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