Parchment manuscripts as a biomolecular archive: a novel approach for understanding the origins of the Merino sheep
Over time, past populations have used an incredible diversity of resources available in their environments, including natural fibres which are turned into textiles and numerous objects of the daily life. Wool, obtained from domesticated sheep, represents one of the main sources of natural fibres, and the finest of its kind can be found in the Merino sheep.
Merino sheep have been a valued commodity in Spain since medieval times, when wool trade was thriving all over Europe. Nonetheless, any history of Merino sheep begins in shadow. Origin stories argue that they were introduced by the Romans, a consequence of Umayyad conquest of Hispania, the Berbers from Africa, or Spanish management. But, although documents present little written evidence, these could actually hold the (biological) key to the origin of this, the world’s most important sheep breed.
The project will extract DNA not only from archaeological sheep bones but also from well dated historical documents made of sheepskin parchment (i) to document historical changes in genetic signatures and (ii) to visually assess changes in fibre quality or colour from preserved follicle patterns. This may help to reveal clues about recent dispersals, selection and management practices, and advance our understanding about medieval economy and wool trade.
The PhD project is a cooperation between Centre for Textile Research and Section for Evolutionary Genomics, UCPH - read more in the Beasts 2 Craft website.