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2019-03-06 08:58:34   •   ID: 2081

Goats: An early component of the full Neolithic Package

Figure 1
This is a terracotta jug from the late Bronze age of Northern Iran with a Rams head spout, dating to ca 900 yrs BC.

The domestic goat (Capra aegagrus hircus) is a subspecies of C. aegagrus domesticated from the wild goat of Southwest Asia. Goats (Capra hircus) were among the first domesticated animals during the Neolithic in western Asia.

Bezoar ibexes are native to the southern slopes of the Zagros and Taurus mountains, and evidence shows that the goat descendants spread globally, playing an important role in the advancement of Neolithic agricultural technology where they were taken.

It is not by chance that the Goat appears in Iranian art for many thousand years and was mythological highly charged with symbolism..

Figure 2
Beginning between 10- 11 k.a. cal BP, Neolithic farmers in the Near East starting keeping small herds of ibexes for their milk and meat, and for their dung for fuel, as well as for materials for clothing and building: hair, bone, skin, and sinew.

Today over 300 breeds of goats exist on our planet, living on every continent except Antarctica and in a quite astonishing range of environments, from human tropical rain forests to dry hot desert regions and cold, hypoxic high altitude regions.

Archaeological data suggested two distinct places of domestication: the Euphrates river valley at Nevali Çori, Turkey (11 k.a. cal BP) and the Zagros Mountains of Iran at Ganj Dareh 10 k.a. cal BP). Other possible sites of domestication proposed by researchers includes the Indus Basin in Pakistan at Mehrgarh, 9 k.a. cal BP and other sites further East (China).

Studies on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences (Luikart et al) indicate there are four highly divergent goat lineages today. Luikart and colleagues suggested that means either there were four domestication events, or there is a broad level of diversity that was always there in the bezoar ibex.

A study by Gerbault and colleagues supported Luikart's findings, suggesting the extraordinary variety of genes in modern goats arose from one or more domestication events from the Zagros and Taurus mountains and the southern Levant, followed by interbreeding and continued development in other places.

Figure 3
Makarewicz and Tuross looked at stable isotopes in goat and gazelle bones from two sites on either side of the Dead Sea in Israel: Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) site of Abu Ghosh and the Late PPNB site of Basta.

They showed that gazelles (used as a control group) eaten by the occupants of the two sites maintained a consistently wild diet, but goats from the later Basta site had a significantly different diet than goats from the earlier site.

The main difference in the oxygen and nitrogen stable isotopes of the goats suggests that Basta goats had access to plants that were from a wetter environment than that near where they were eaten.

That was likely the result of either the goats being herded to a wetter environment during some part of the year or that they were provisioned by fodder from those locations.

That indicates that people were managing goats in so far as moving them from pasture to pasture and/or providing fodder by as early as 8000 cal BC; and that was likely part of a process that began earlier still, perhaps during the early PPNB (10,5-10,1 k.a. cal BP), coinciding with reliance on plant cultivars.