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Mummified sheep legs 1,600 years ago provide clues to ancient agricultural practices

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CARLETON-SUR-MER, QUE. -DNA analysis of the 1600-year-old mummified sheep’s legs found in Iran provides clues as to how ancient people in the Middle East lived.

Sheep legs were recently discovered at the Chehrabad salt mine in Iran. This is the same salt mine where eight mummified “Saltmen” were found in 1993.Trinity College Dublin’s geneticist-led research team, which conducted DNA analysis, published their findings. Wednesday Journal Biology Letter..

Researchers were able to extract DNA from a small piece of mummified skin on the legs, and found that sheep were genetically similar to the sheep currently found in the area. This suggests that the sheep used in Iran today are direct descendants of the sheep. At least 1600 years ago.

“Using a combination of genetic and microscopic approaches, our team can create genetic images of what the 1600-year-old Iranian sheep breed looked like and how it was used. It’s done, “research director Kevin G. Daily said in the news release.

DNA analysis showed that ancient sheep look very different from the domestic sheep found on farms in North America today. For starters, this sheep lacked a gene associated with a wool coat and would not have grown a fleece.

Instead, it would have had a shorter “hairy” coat that would not have needed to be thin. Analysis of the hair found on the legs using an electron microscope confirmed these findings.

In addition, the sheep would have had a fat tail. As the name implies, fat-tailed sheep accumulate fat in their tails, resulting in wider and longer tails than other types of sheep. Fat-tailed sheep are common in the Middle East because these breeds of sheep adapt well to dry climates.

These findings suggest that the ancient people of Iran “may have managed a flock of sheep specializing in meat consumption, suggesting well-developed livestock practices,” Daily said. ..

Such specimens would normally have had significant DNA damage, but were very well preserved thanks to the low water content of the salt and mines. Researchers have also discovered a variety of microbes and bacteria that breed in salty conditions. This suggests that these microorganisms are involved in the mummification process.

“The amazing integrity of DNA was different from what we had previously encountered from ancient bones and teeth. This DNA conservation is how fundamental the environment is to the dynamics of tissue and DNA breakdown. “It shows,” said lead author Connor Rossi in the news. release.

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