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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Ecology & Evolution Open Access 07 April 2022
Archaeogenetic analysis of Neolithic sheep from Anatolia suggests a complex demographic history since domestication
Communications Biology Open Access 12 November 2021
Subscribe to Nature+
Get immediate online access to the entire Nature family of 50+ journals
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $9.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Shotgun sequencing raw files are available at the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) database under accession number PRJEB41594.
Asouti, E. & Fuller, D. Q. A contextual approach to the emergence of agriculture in southwest Asia: reconstructing early Neolithic plant-food production. Curr. Anthropol. 54, 299–345 (2013).
Conolly, J. et al. Meta-analysis of zooarchaeological data from SW Asia and SE Europe provides insight into the origins and spread of animal husbandry. J. Archaeol. Sci. 38, 538–545 (2011).
Larson, G. et al. Current perspectives and the future of domestication studies. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 111, 6139–6146 (2014).
Willcox, G. Measuring grain size and identifying Near Eastern cereal domestication: evidence from the Euphrates Valley. J. Archaeol. Sci. 31, 145–150 (2004).
Willcox, G. & Stordeur, D. Large-scale cereal processing before domestication during the tenth millennium cal BC in northern Syria. Antiquity 86, 99–114 (2012).
Larson, G. & Fuller, D. Q. The evolution of animal domestication. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 45, 115–136 (2014).
Bocquet‐Appel, J. Paleoanthropological traces of a Neolithic demographic transition. Curr. Anthropol. 43, 637–650 (2002).
Bellwood, P. First Farmers: the Origins of Agricultural Societies (Wiley, 2004).
Omrak, A. et al. Genomic evidence establishes Anatolia as the source of the European Neolithic gene pool. Curr. Biol. 26, 270–275 (2016).
Olalde, I. et al. The genomic history of the Iberian Peninsula over the past 8000 years. Science 363, 1230–1234 (2019).
Brace, S. et al. Ancient genomes indicate population replacement in early Neolithic Britain. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 3, 765–771 (2019).
Zeder, M. A. & Hesse, B. The initial domestication of goats (Capra hircus) in the Zagros mountains 10,000 years ago. Science 287, 2254–2257 (2000).
Daly, K. G. et al. Ancient goat genomes reveal mosaic domestication in the Fertile Crescent. Science 361, 85–88 (2018).
Alberto, F. J. et al. Convergent genomic signatures of domestication in sheep and goats. Nat. Commun. 9, 813 (2018).
Zeder, M. A. in Human Dispersal and Species Movement: from Prehistory to the Present (eds Petraglia, M.D., Crassard, R. & Boivin, N.) p. 261 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2017).
Vigne, J.-D. Early domestication and farming: what should we know or do for a better understanding? Anthropozoologica 50, 123–151 (2015).
Pereira, F. & Amorim, A. Encyclopedia of Life Sciences https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470015902.a0022864 (2010).
Hermes, T. R. et al. Mitochondrial DNA of domesticated sheep confirms pastoralist component of Afanasievo subsistence economy in the Altai Mountains (3300–2900 cal BC). Archaeol. Res. Asia 24, 100232 (2020).
Wilkin, S. et al. Dairy pastoralism sustained eastern Eurasian steppe populations for 5,000 years. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 4, 346–355 (2020).
Hermes, T. R. et al. Early integration of pastoralism and millet cultivation in Bronze Age Eurasia. Proc. Biol. Sci. 286, 20191273 (2019).
Taylor, W. et al. Early pastoral economies along the Ancient Silk Road: biomolecular evidence from the Alay Valley, Kyrgyzstan. PLoS ONE 13, e0205646 (2018).
Spengler, R. N. & Willcox, G. Archaeobotanical results from Sarazm, Tajikistan, an early Bronze Age settlement on the edge: agriculture and exchange. Environ. Archaeol. 18, 211–221 (2013).
Korobkova, G. F. Tools and Economy of the Neolithic Populations in Central Asia (Nauka, 1969).
Masson, V. M. The Jeitun Settlement: the Emergence of a Productive Economy (Nauka, 1971).
Itina, M.A. History of Steppe Tribes of Southern Aral Sea Region (2–1 Ka BP) (Nauka, 1977).
Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. The Bronze Age khanates of Central Asia. Antiquity 68, 398–405 (1994).
Brunet, F. Pour une nouvelle étude de la culture néolithique de Kel’teminar. Ouzbékistan. Paléorient 31, 87–105 (2005).
Masson, V. M. The Bronze Age in Khorasan. Hist. Civiliz. Cent. Asia 1, 225 (1999).
Ranov, V. A. Hissar culture - Neolithic mountain regions of Central Asia. in Stone Age of Northern, Middle and Eastern Asia 27–28 (Nauka, 1985).
Yablonsky, L. T. Kelteminar craniology. Intra-group analysis. Sov. Ethnogr., Mosc., USSR Acad. Sci. 2, 127–140 (1985).
Vinogradov, A. V. Drevnie okhotniki i rybolovy Sredneaziatskogo Mezhdurechija (Former hunters and fishermen of Central Asian Mesopotamia) (Nauka (Science), 1981a).
Vinogradov, A. V. in Kul ‘tura i iskusstvo drevnego Khorezma (Culture and Art of Ancient Khoresam) (eds Itina, M. A., Raporort, J. A. et al.) pp. 88–98 (1981b).
Harris, D. R., Origins of Agriculture in Western Central Asia https://doi.org/10.9783/9781934536513 (Univ. of Pennsylvania, 2010).
Dolukhanov, P. M. The ecological prerequisites for early farming in southern Turkmenia. Sov. Anthropol. Archeol. 19, 359–385 (1981).
Lisitsina, G. N. in The Bronze Age Civilization of Central Asia: Recent Soviet Discoveries (ed. Kohl, P. L.) pp. 350–358 (M. E. Sharpe, 1981).
Larkum, M. in Origins of Agriculture in Western Central Asia: An Environmental–Archaeological Study (ed. Harris, D.) pp. 142–149 (Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2010).
Ranov, V. A. & Korobkova, G. F., Tutkaul – multilayered settlement site of the Gissar culture in southern Tajikistan. Sov. Archaeol. 133–147 (1971).
Islamov, U. I., Obishirian Culture (FAN, 1980).
Fedorchenko, A. Y. et al. Personal ornament production technology in the early Holocene complexes of western Central Asia: insights from Obishir-5. Archaeol., Ethnol. Anthropol. Eurasia 46, 3–15 (2018).
Szymczak, K. & Khudzhanazarov, M., Exploring the Neolithic of the Kyzyl-Kums. Ayakagytma “The Site” and other collections. Swiatowit Suppl. Ser. P: Prehistory and Middle Ages 11. Central Asia–Prehist. Stud (2006).
Buckley, M., Collins, M., Thomas-Oates, J. & Wilson, J. C. Species identification by analysis of bone collagen using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom. 23, 3843–3854 (2009).
Kerven, C., Steimann, B., Ashley, L., Dear, C. & ur Rahim, I. Pastoralism and Farming in Central Asia’s Mountains: a Research Review (Univ. of Central Asia, 2011).
Lieberman, D. E. Life history variables preserved in dental cementum microstructure. Science 261, 1162–1164 (1993).
Klevezal, G. A. Recording Structures of Mammals: Determination of Age and Reconstruction of Life History (A. A. Balkema, 1996).
Diekwisch, T. G. The developmental biology of cementum. Int. J. Dev. Biol. 45, 695–706 (2001).
Klevezal, G. & Kleinenberg, S. Age determination of mammals from annual layers in teeth and bones of mammals. Trans. from Russian by the Israel Program for Scientific Translations, Jerusalem (1969).
Grue, H. & Jensen, B., Review of the formation of incremental lines in tooth cementum of terrestrial mammals [age determination, game animal, variation, sex, reproductive cycle, climate, region, condition of the animal]. Dan. Rev. Game Biol. 11 (1979).
Stock, S. R. et al. Cementum structure in Beluga whale teeth. Acta Biomater. 48, 289–299 (2017).
Gordon, B. C. Of Men and Reindeer Herds in French Magdalenian Prehistory https://doi.org/10.30861/9780860545040 (BAR Publishing, 1988).
Pike-Tay, A. Red Deer Hunting in the Upper Paleolithic of South-West France: a Study in Seasonality (BAR Oxford, 1991).
Burke, A. & Castanet, J. Histological observations of cementum growth in horse teeth and their application to archaeology. J. Archaeol. Sci. 22, 479–493 (1995).
Frachetti, M. D. Multiregional emergence of mobile pastoralism and nonuniform institutional complexity across Eurasia. Curr. Anthropol. 53, 2–38 (2012).
Stiner, M. C. et al. A forager–herder trade-off, from broad-spectrum hunting to sheep management at Aşıklı Höyük, Turkey. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 111, 8404–8409 (2014).
Demirci, S. et al. Mitochondrial DNA diversity of modern, ancient and wild sheep (Ovis gmelinii anatolica) from Turkey: new insights on the evolutionary history of sheep. PLoS ONE 8, e81952 (2013).
Meadows, J. R. S., Hiendleder, S. & Kijas, J. W. Haplogroup relationships between domestic and wild sheep resolved using a mitogenome panel. Heredity 106, 700–706 (2011).
Cai, D. et al. Early history of Chinese domestic sheep indicated by ancient DNA analysis of Bronze Age individuals. J. Archaeol. Sci. 38, 896–902 (2011).
Meadows, J. R. S., Cemal, I., Karaca, O., Gootwine, E. & Kijas, J. W. Five ovine mitochondrial lineages identified from sheep breeds of the Near East. Genetics 175, 1371–1379 (2007).
Bruford, M. W. & Townsend, S. J., in Documenting Domestication: New Genetic and Archaeological Paradigms (eds Zeder, M. A., Bradley, D. G. & Emshwiller, E. A.) pp 306–316 (Univ. of California Press, 2006).
Arbuckle, B. S. & Atici, L. Initial diversity in sheep and goat management in Neolithic south-western. Asia. Levant. 45, 219–235 (2013).
Hesse, B. Slaughter patterns and domestication: the beginnings of pastoralism in western Iran. Man 17, 403–417 (1982).
Fijn, N., Living with Herds: Human–Animal Coexistence in Mongolia (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011).
Frachetti, M. D., Smith, C. E., Traub, C. M. & Williams, T. Nomadic ecology shaped the highland geography of Asia’s Silk Roads. Nature 543, 193 (2017).
Jerardino, A., Fort, J., Isern, N. & Rondelli, B. Cultural diffusion was the main driving mechanism of the Neolithic transition in Southern Africa. PLoS ONE 9, e113672 (2014).
van Klinken, G. J. Bone collagen quality indicators for palaeodietary and radiocarbon measurements. J. Archaeol. Sci. 26, 687–695 (1999).
Reimer, P. J. et al. The IntCal20 Northern Hemisphere radiocarbon age calibration curve (0–55 cal kBP). Radiocarbon 62, 725–757 (2020).
Ramsey, C. B. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51, 337–360 (2009).
Wintle, A. G. & Prószyńska, H. TL dating of loess in Germany and Poland. PACT 9, 547–554 (1983).
Fedorowicz, S. et al. Loess–paleosol sequence at Korshiv (Ukraine): chronology based on complementary and parallel dating (TL, OSL), and litho-pedosedimentary analyses. Quat. Int. 296, 117–130 (2013).
Frechen, M. Systematic thermoluminescence dating of two loess profiles from the Middle Rhine Area (FRG). Quat. Sci. Rev. 11, 93–101 (1992).
Behrensmeyer, A. K. Taphonomic and ecologic information from bone weathering. Paleobiology 4, 150–162 (1978).
van Doorn, N. L., Hollund, H. & Collins, M. J. A novel and non-destructive approach for ZooMS analysis: ammonium bicarbonate buffer extraction. Archaeol. Anthropol. Sci. 3, 281 (2011).
Welker, F. et al. Palaeoproteomic evidence identifies archaic hominins associated with the Châtelperronian at the Grotte du Renne. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 113, 11162–11167 (2016).
Rendu, W. Hunting behavior and Neanderthal adaptability in the Late Pleistocene site of Pech-de-l’Azé I. J. Archaeol. Sci. 37, 1798–1810 (2010).
Stutz, A. J. Polarizing microscopy identification of chemical diagenesis in archaeological cementum. J. Archaeol. Sci. 29, 1327–1347 (2002).
Geusa, G. et al. in Osteodental Biology of the People of Portus Romae (Necropolis of Isola Sacra, 2nd-3rd Cent. AD) (eds Bondioli, L. & Macchiarelli, R.) (Roma, 1999).
Lieberman, D. E., Deacon, T. W. & Meadow, R. H. Computer image enhancement and analysis of cementum increments as applied to teeth of Gazella gazella. J. Archaeol. Sci. 17, 519–533 (1990).
Gorgé, O. et al. Analysis of ancient DNA in microbial ecology. Methods Mol. Biol. 1399, 289–315 (2016).
Rohland, N., Harney, E., Mallick, S., Nordenfelt, S. & Reich, D. Partial uracil-DNA-glycosylase treatment for screening of ancient DNA. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B Biol. Sci. 370, 20130624 (2015).
Kircher, M., Sawyer, S. & Meyer, M. Double indexing overcomes inaccuracies in multiplex sequencing on the Illumina platform. Nucleic Acids Res. 40, e3 (2012).
Ginolhac, A., Rasmussen, M., Gilbert, M. T. P., Willerslev, E. & Orlando, L. mapDamage: testing for damage patterns in ancient DNA sequences. Bioinformatics 27, 2153–2155 (2011).
Li, H. & Durbin, R. Fast and accurate long-read alignment with Burrows–Wheeler transform. Bioinformatics 26, 589–595 (2010).
Purcell, S. et al. PLINK: a tool set for whole-genome association and population-based linkage analyses. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 81, 559–575 (2007).
Li, X. et al. Whole-genome resequencing of wild and domestic sheep identifies genes associated with morphological and agronomic traits. Nat. Commun. 11, 2815 (2020).
Li, H. et al. The sequence alignment/map format and SAMtools. Bioinformatics 25, 2078–2079 (2009).
DePristo, M. A. et al. A framework for variation discovery and genotyping using next-generation DNA sequencing data. Nat. Genet. 43, 491 (2011).
Mallick, S. et al. The Simons Genome Diversity Project: 300 genomes from 142 diverse populations. Nature 538, 201–206 (2016).
Kumar, S., Stecher, G., Li, M., Knyaz, C. & Tamura, K. MEGA X: molecular evolutionary genetics analysis across computing platforms. Mol. Biol. Evol. 35, 1547–1549 (2018).
Stecher, G., Tamura, K. & Kumar, S. Molecular evolutionary genetics analysis (MEGA) for macOS. Mol. Biol. Evol. 37, 1237–1239 (2020).
Tamura, K. & Nei, M. Estimation of the number of nucleotide substitutions in the control region of mitochondrial DNA in humans and chimpanzees. Mol. Biol. Evol. 10, 512–526 (1993).
Murphy, D. J. People, Plants and Genes: The Story of Crops and Humanity (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007).
Lv, F.-H. et al. Mitogenomic meta-analysis identifies two phases of migration in the history of eastern Eurasian sheep. Mol. Biol. Evol. 32, 2515–2533 (2015).
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.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Human Behaviour thanks Suzanne Birch, Laurent Frantz and Eve Rannamae for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Taylor, W.T.T., Pruvost, M., Posth, C. et al. Evidence for early dispersal of domestic sheep into Central Asia. Nat Hum Behav 5, 1169–1179 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01083-y
This article is cited by
Middle Holocene hunting-gathering culture and environmental background of the steppe area of northern China
Science China Earth Sciences (2022)
Nature Ecology & Evolution (2022)
Archaeogenetic analysis of Neolithic sheep from Anatolia suggests a complex demographic history since domestication
Communications Biology (2021)