Studying the traces of urine of sheep and goats is giving archaeologists a glimpse into the domestication of the animals in a Turkish village 10,000 years ago.
The innovative approach has provided a new understanding of the transition from hunting and gathering to farming and herding by residents at the site called Asikli Hoyuk in central Turkey.
The study by an international team of archaeologists and geologists was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
The researchers studied salts from urine which was trapped in layers of sediment beneath the village to determine how much was produced by sheep or goats.
The villagers appeared to have only had a few animals during the first hundred years of settlement at the dawn of the Neolithic era.
But between 10,400 and 9,700 years ago, the amount of urine increased by a factor of 10 to 1000.
Eventually, there were more sheep and goats than people.
“The urine salt data demonstrate large increases in the scope and intensity of livestock keeping at Asikli Hoyuk over a span of 1,000 years,” the study said.
Jordan Abell, a geochemist who is a third-year PhD student at New York’s Columbia University, said the arid nature of the Turkish site allowed for this sort of urine analysis research.
“We had a pristine, nicely preserved site,” Abell told AFP. “It’s pretty dry there so we think that it would be best applied in similar regions to that.”
“Hopefully this could be expanded to, maybe, a site where we know that maybe prior to actual animal management, there were just humans,” he said.