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The name of the game: palaeoproteomics and radiocarbon dates further refine the presence and dispersal of caprines in eastern and southern Africa.

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We report the first large-scale palaeoproteomics research on eastern and southern African zooarchaeological samples, thereby refining our understanding of early caprine (sheep and goat) pastoralism in Africa. Assessing caprine introductions is a complicated task because of their skeletal similarity to endemic wild bovid species and the sparse and fragmentary state of relevant archaeological remains. Palaeoproteomics has previously proved effective in clarifying species attributions in African zooarchaeological materials, but few comparative protein sequences of wild bovid species have been available. Using newly generated type I collagen sequences for wild species, as well as previously published sequences, we assess species attributions for elements originally identified as caprine or 'unidentifiable bovid' from 17 eastern and southern African sites that span seven millennia. We identified over 70% of the archaeological remains and the direct radiocarbon dating of domesticate specimens allows refinement of the chronology of caprine presence in both African regions. These results thus confirm earlier occurrences in eastern Africa and the systematic association of domesticated caprines with wild bovids at all archaeological sites. The combined biomolecular approach highlights repeatability and accuracy of the methods for conclusive contribution in species attribution of archaeological remains in dry African environments.


Peer reviewed: True

Publication status: Published

Funder: Fyssen Foundation

Funder: Institut de Recherches Archéologiques et Historiques (IRAH)

Funder: Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle

Funder: French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs

Funder: American Institute for Yemeni Studies; doi:


Africa, hunters–gatherers, palaeoproteomics, pastoralism, radiocarbon dating, zooarchaeology

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R Soc Open Sci

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The Royal Society
Labex (ANR-10-LABX-0003-BCDiv, ANR-11-IDEX-0004-02)
Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR 14-CE31-0023, ANR-15-IDEX-01)
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme (948365)
HORIZON EUROPE Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (101062449)
United States National Science Foundation (BCS-1027607)