Repository logo

Palaeoproteomics confirm earliest domesticated sheep in southern Africa ca. 2000 BP

Published version

Change log


Coutu, Ashley N. 
Taurozzi, Alberto J. 
Mackie, Meaghan 
Jensen, Theis Zetner Trolle 
Collins, Matthew J. 


Abstract: We used palaeoproteomics and peptide mass fingerprinting to obtain secure species identifications of key specimens of early domesticated fauna from South Africa, dating to ca. 2000 BP. It can be difficult to distinguish fragmentary remains of early domesticates (sheep) from similar-sized local wild bovids (grey duiker, grey rhebok, springbok—southern Africa lacks wild sheep) based on morphology alone. Our analysis revealed a Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) marker (m/z 1532) present in wild bovids and we demonstrate through LC–MS/MS that it is capable of discriminating between wild bovids and caprine domesticates. We confirm that the Spoegrivier specimen dated to 2105 ± 65 BP is indeed a sheep. This is the earliest directly dated evidence of domesticated animals in southern Africa. As well as the traditional method of analysing bone fragments, we show the utility of minimally destructive sampling methods such as PVC eraser and polishing films for successful ZooMS identification. We also show that collagen extracted more than 25 years ago for the purpose of radiocarbon dating can yield successful ZooMS identification. Our study demonstrates the importance of developing appropriate regional frameworks of comparison for future research using ZooMS as a method of biomolecular species identification.



Article, /631/1647/2067, /631/181/27, article

Journal Title

Scientific Reports

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Nature Publishing Group UK
Seventh Framework Programme (PIOF-GA-2012-332165)
Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF128, DNRF128, DNRF128)
European Union’s EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 (676154)
National Research Foundation of South Africa (84407)