The Sheep Project (2): The effects of plane of nutrition, castration and the timing of first breeding in ewes on dental eruption and wear in unimproved Shetland sheep

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Abstract

The skeletons of 356 unimproved Shetland sheep from flocks kept at two nutritional levels are used to investigate the effects of nutritional level on the timing of mandibular dental eruption, and of wear in the mandibular fourth premolar and molars; comparisons are also made between entire and early-castrated males and between unbred, early-bred and late-bred ewes. Sheep weights and counts of permanent anterior teeth recorded during life are also investigated. The skeletal dental data are compared to timing of bone fusion recorded for the same individuals (Popkin et al., 2012).Results show small differences in the timing of eruption and tooth wear between males and females, and that these processes are only marginally affected by castration and the timing of first breeding in ewes. Small differences between sheep at the two nutritional levels are also present; however the difference between the two feeding regimes was moderate, and more marked nutritional differences might have larger effects.The implication of our data is that marked intra-assemblage differences cannot be explained exclusively by changes in the management variables explored in this study. Further, as sex and castration have little effect on the timing of dental eruption and wear, but substantially delay epiphyseal fusion (Popkin et al., 2012), we support previous hypotheses that comparison of the two datasets may provide a method for investigating flock structure in past animal husbandry. Our results are of most relevance to domestic sheep assemblages from similar environments to the UK, and to the Shetland breed, but can assist zooarchaeologists worldwide in interpreting dental data.

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Worley, F., Baker, P., Popkin, P., Hammon, A., & Payne, S. (2016). The Sheep Project (2): The effects of plane of nutrition, castration and the timing of first breeding in ewes on dental eruption and wear in unimproved Shetland sheep. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 6, 862–874. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2015.10.029

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