Although sheep are only one of the important domesticates exploited in many parts of the world, it has played a near-paradigmatic role throughout the emergence and spread of European civilization. Domestic sheep and goat unambiguously originate from Southwest Asia where their wild ancestors live. Therefore sheep distributions across Europe represent an element of evident diffusion in the otherwise complex neolithization process. The numerical increase in sheep remains can be spectacular at Early Neolithic sites in Central Europe, even in habitats less than favorable for sheep. In various instances mutton outcompeted locally available pork in the diet as shown by animal remains from archaeological sites across Eurasia. Reasons for this trend seem to be diverse, ranging from greater pastoral mobility through secondary products (wool and dairy) to side effects of religious regulations such as the Iron Age taboo imposed on pork first documented in Judaism. Concomitant strict regulations concerning the “proper” way of slaughtering livestock link the increased dietary importance of sheep to the emergence of metallurgy, i.e. availability of quality blades.
László Bartosiewicz has worked as an archaeozoologist since 1979. He has studied animal-human relationships during various time periods in several countries of Europe and some in the Near East as well as South America. His research often has a cultural anthropological focus viewing animals as material culture. Recently he has specialized in animal palaeopathology. He published three books and over 350 academic papers. Following teaching positions at the Universities of Budapest (Hungary) and Edinburgh (UK), he currently heads the Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory at Stockholm University (Sweden). He was twice elected president of the International Council for Archaeozoology (2006–2014).
This event is part of the Origins of Europe Series and is sponsored by the Stanford Archaeology Center and co-sponsored by The Europe Center.