Good afternoon, good people of the internet. It’s Ian Wilson, master of obscure facts, here once again to enlighten you on the humble history of fiber arts. Today, I want to talk about sheep.
Sheep were first domesticated somewhere in Asia Minor (commonly referred to as Turkey) about 11,000 years ago, at the close of the Paleolithic age, and the dawn of the Neolithic age. This was a significant period in human history. This was the beginning of agriculture and other new technology. Humans were beginning to settle into small communities, which would become the foundations of civilizations to come.
Sheep were likely one of the first animals to be domesticated by man. They were bred from a species of Eurasian wild sheep called mouflon. They are similar in appearance to the bighorn sheep that roam the American West today. Interestingly, bighorns are genetically more similar to domesticated sheep than any Eurasian species. But I digress.
Unlike domestic sheep, however, mouflon shed their hair twice a year; therefore, they were not shorn. Their shed hair was plucked out in a process called “rooing”. But it’s believed that the earliest sheep were kept not for their wool, but for their skins and meat and milk. This was an important innovation. No longer were humans forced to rely on wild game for their animal protein!
Domestic sheep spread outward to other parts of the world, all the way to the western edge of Europe. In Britain, sheep were kept in long, narrow corals, which are no longer standing, but you can see where they once stood from aerial photos. To farm sheep this way, however, requires the presence of a sheepdog; thus the domestication of sheep drove the domestication of dogs as well.
In Spain, wool production was taken to a whole new level. The merino sheep has what is considered to be the finest wool of any sheep breed in the world, and is extremely productive. The churra sheep is also prized for its versatility and adaptability. For this reason, it was introduced to the American West, where it has become an important part of the culture and industry of many American Indian tribes.
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**Opinions expressed on blogs about which I write are the opinion of the blog authors and DO NOT necessarily reflect my own opinion.