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A ruminant mammal (Ovis) with a thick woolly coat usually living in groups as flocks and known for their timidity. Wild sheep are now almost extinct, surviving only as wild populations in remote mountain regions of the Near East and Asia, and distinguished by horn‐shape, build, and pelage. Amongst domestic sheep, six main groups are recognized: mouflon (Ovis musimon), originally from Sardinia and Corsica, where they are regarded as feral domestic sheep, recently introduced into the mountains of mainland Europe; urials (Ovis orientalis), found in the mountains of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, southern Russia, Pakistan, and northern India; argalis (Ovis ammon), very large sheep found in the Himalayas, Mongolia, and western Siberia; snow sheep, large‐sized sheep found in Siberia; dall sheep, found in Alaska and the northern Rocky Mountains; and bighorns, found in the mountains of western parts of North America.

The domestication of sheep appears to have taken place in the Near East before 7000 bc. At Ali Kosh, in the southern Zagros Mountains of Iran, an assemblage dating to about 7000 bc that includes hornless sheep is taken as clear evidence of flock manipulation. Sheep seem to appear in Europe already domesticated around 6000 bc in the Aegean and not long afterwards in the western Mediterranean. When alive, sheep can be separated from goats (Capra) by differences in scent glands, the lack of a ‘beard’ on sheep, distinctive horn types in the two species, and genetically in terms of the number of chromosomes present. Archaeologically, however, sheep and goats are difficult to tell apart from skeletal remains alone, the key differences being in the horn cores, metapodials, and phalanges. For this reason, many archaeological reports refer to identifications as being sheep/goat or ovicaprid.

Subjects: Archaeology

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