ZooMS confirms geometric morphometrics species identification of ancient sheep and goat

R Soc Open Sci. 2023 Sep 27;10(9):230672. doi: 10.1098/rsos.230672. eCollection 2023 Sep.


Geometric morphometrics can effectively distinguish isolated third lower molars of present-day sheep and goat, but its applicability to archaeological specimens has yet to be established. Using a modern reference collection of 743 sheep and goats and a two-dimensional landmark-based geometric morphometric (GMM) protocol, this study aimed to morphometrically identify 109 archaeological specimens, used as case studies, dating from the Late Neolithic to the modern period/era. These morphometric identifications were then compared to molecular identifications via collagen peptide mass fingerprinting, known as Zooarcheology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS). ZooMS confirmed the morphometric identifications for 104 specimens, with the five misidentified specimens all morphometrically identified as goat. Modern sheep and goats have larger teeth and distinct shapes compared to their archaeological counterparts, suggesting strong differences between archaeological and modern specimens potentially linked with recent breed improvement or geographical origin of the specimens. In addition, for both species, some of the archaeological dental morphologies do not match with any of our modern references. This study validates the applicability of geometric morphometrics for identifying isolated archaeological sheep and goat teeth. It represents a stepping stone for future, non-destructive, bioarchaeological studies of the two species.

Keywords: Capra hircus; GMM; Ovis aries; caprines identifications; paleoproteins; third lower molar.

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.6824155
  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.fj6q5741m