Institute of Archaeology


Origins and Spread of Stock-Keeping in the Near East and Europe

In western Eurasia the earliest evidence for domestic livestock is dated to c.10,000 cal BP. Farming then spread westwards through Europe over the subsequent millennia, arriving in the far west and north of the continent by c.6,000 cal BP. For decades there have been major debates as to the nature of this spread, with many basic questions still remaining largely unanswered.

The objective of this major research project, which was funded for four years by the AHRC from January 2007, was to address these questions. The largest and most systematic survey of published/archived archaeological zooarchaeological data ever undertaken has been carried out in order to re-examine the evidence for the origins of stock-keeping in the Near East and its spread into Europe during the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic periods, c.12,000 to 6,000 cal BP.

The aims of the project were to establish the most significant characteristics of early Neolithic animal exploitation economies through time and over broad and geographic regions, and specifically to:

  • understand the key factors that account for variation in early Neolithic animal exploitation
  • explore possible variations in husbandry and hunting strategies that developed as Neolithic herding economies spread from their area/s of origin
  • assess the speed of spread of livestock farming across Europe
  • look for possible adaptive changes in husbandry and hunting practices
  • investigate the evidence for local indigenous domestication
  • compare the zooarchaeological data with archaeobotanical evidence on the origins and spread of Neolithic crops and farming (e.g., including the results of a previous AHRC funded project based at the IoA led by Stephen Shennan on The origin and spread of Neolithic plant economies in the Near East and Europe) to assess similarities/differences in the spread of crop and livestock 'packages' throughout Europe.

The basis for the study is a comprehensive database of selected animal bone data from relevant sites. The database includes c.650 site records (comprising over 950 different phases) and c.13,500 faunal records of approximately 600 different taxa. All the zooarchaeological data are spatially and chronologically referenced.

Related outputs

  • Manning, K., Timpson, A., Shennan, S., Crema, E. (2015). Size Reduction in Early European Domestic Cattle Relates to Intensification of Neolithic Herding Strategies. PLOS ONE, 10 (12), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141873
  • Shennan, S., et al. (eds.) (2013). The Origin and Spread of Stock-keeping in the Near East and Europe. Left Coast Press
  • Shennan, S.J., Downey, S.S., Timpson, A., Edinborough, K., Colledge, S., Kerig, T., ...Thomas, M.G. (2013). Regional population collapse followed initial agriculture booms in mid-Holocene Europe. Nature Communications
  • Manning, K., Downey, S.S., Colledge, S., Conolly, J., Stopp, B., Dobney, K., Shennan, S. (2013). The origins and spread of stock-keeping: The role of cultural and environmental influences on early Neolithic animal exploitation in Europe. Antiquity 87 (338), 1046-1059. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00049851
  • Conolly, J., Manning, K., Colledge, S., Dobney, K., Shennan, S. (2012). Species distribution modelling of ancient cattle from early Neolithic sites in SW Asia and Europe. Holocene, 22 (9), 997-1010. doi:10.1177/0959683612437871
  • Conolly, J., Colledge, S., Dobney, K., Vigne, J.-D., Peters, J., Stopp, B., Manning, K. and Shennan, S. (2011). Meta-analysis of zooarchaeological data from SW Asia and SE Europe provides insight into the origins and spread of animal husbandry. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(2): 538-545.