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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Animal domestication and human dispersal

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


Dr Greger Larson and Professor Peter Rowley-Conwy are leaders of an international collaboration investigating both the pattern and process of animal domestication, and the use of domestic animals as proxies for human migration. More specifically, they use both ancient DNA and geometric morphometric techniques to investigate variation at different levels of biological organisation in pigs, dogs, and chickens. They are interested not only in understanding how, when, and where these animals were domesticated, but how their movement through time reflects the dispersal patterns of the humans who kept them as livestock and pets.


This wide-ranging project has benefitted from the support of numerous successful grant applications including:

  • 1) Pigs, People & the Neolithisation of Europe: Pigs as proxies for human dispersal (£460,010) October 2008 – September 2011, Natural Environment Research Council, UK
  • 2) Reconsidering Austronesian Homeland and Dispersal Models using Genetic and Morphological Signatures of Domestic Animals (£806,738) October 2010 – September 2013 Natural Environment Research Council, UK
  • 3) Deciphering dog domestication through a combined ancient DNA and geometric morphometric approach (£981,098) October 2013 – September 2016 Natural Environment Research Council, UK
  • 4) Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Chicken Interactions (£1.9m) January 2014 – December 2017 Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • 5) Unifying Domestication and Evolutionary Biology through Ancient DNA (UNDEAD) (€1.5m) February 2014 – January 2019 European Research Council

In addition, this research project has won a total of 60 radiocarbon dates from two applications to the National Radiocarbon Facility, and Greger was PI on a successful grant to the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) to host a Catalysis meeting in North Carolina in April 2011. The results of this conference will be published as a series of papers in a Special Feature of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA in 2014. Lastly, Greger was the recipient of two Royal Society International Travel Grant awards to travel to Vancouver and Hanoi to attend and present talks at international conferences in 2008 and 2009.

Associated PhD students and Postdocs

The following students and postdocs are associated with the project overall:

Linus Girdland Flink, PhD student (Leverhulme Trust), 2008 - 2012
Ophelie Lebrasseur, PhD student (NERC), 2010 - present
Alexandra Trinks, PhD student (Durham / Aberdeen supported), 2010 - present
Anna Linderholm, Postdoc (NERC), 2010 - present
Liisa Loog, PhD Student (NERC), 2013 - 2016

Key Publications (2010 – 2013)

Laurent A.F. Frantz, Joshua G. Schraiber, Ole Madsen, Hendrik-Jan Megens, Mirte Bosse, Yogesh Paudel, Gono Semiadi, Erik Meijaard, Ning Li, Richard P.M.A Crooijmans, Alan L. Archibald, Montgomery Slatkin, Lawrence B. Schook, Greger Larson, Martien A.M Groenen. (in press) Genome sequencing reveals fine scale diversification and reticulation history during speciation in Sus (Suidae: Cetartiodactyla). Genome Biology

Anna Linderholm, Greger Larson. (2013) The role of humans in facilitating and sustaining coat colour variation in domestic animals Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology 24: 587-593.

Ben Krause-Kyora, Cheryl Makarewicz, Allowen Evin, Linus Girdland Flink, Keith Dobney, Greger Larson, Sönke Hartz, Stefan Schreiber, Claus von Carnap-Bornheim, Nicole von Wurmb-Schwark, Almut Nebel. (2013) Use of domesticated pigs by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in northwest Europe. Nature Communications 4:2348 doi: 10.1038/ncomms3348

Greger Larson, Joachim Burger. (2013) A population genetics view of animal domestication Trends in Genetics 29(4): 197-205

Greger Larson, Linus Girdland Flink, Anna Linderholm, Ross Barnett, Una Strand Vidarsdottir, Thomas Cucchi, Keith Dobney and 29 others (2013) Pig domestication and human-mediated dispersal in western Eurasia revealed through ancient DNA and geometric morphometrics Molecular Biology and Evolution 30(4): 824–832

Greger Larson and 119 others (2012) Analyses of pig genomes provide insight into porcine demography and evolution Nature 491 (7424): 393-398

Greger Larson, Elinor Karlsson, Angela Perri, Matthew Webster, Simon Y. W. Ho, Joris Peters, Peter W. Stahl, Philip J. Piper, Frode Lingaas, Merete Fredholm, Kenine E. Comstock, Jaime F. Modiano, Claude Schelling, Alexander I. Agoulnik, Peter Leegwater, Keith Dobney, Jean-Denis Vigne, Carles Vilà, Leif Andersson, Kerstin Lindblad-Toh. (2012) Rethinking dog domestication by integrating genetics, archeology, and biogeography. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109 (23): 8878-8883.

Andrew Mellows, Ross Barnett, Love Dalén, Edson Sandoval-Castellanos, Anna Linderholm, Thomas H. McGovern, Mike J. Church, Greger Larson (2012) Impact of past climate change on genetic variation and population connectivity in the Icelandic arctic fox Proceedings of the Royal Society B – Biological Sciences 279 (1747): 4568-4573.

Allowen Evin, Thomas Cucchi, Andrea Cardini, Una Strand Vidarsdottir, Greger Larson, Keith Dobney. The long and winding road: Identifying pig domestication through molar size and shape (2012) Journal of Archaeological Science 40(1): 735–743.

Greger Larson (2011) Genetics and domestication: Important Questions for New Answers. Wenner-Gren Foundation Symposium 141. Beginnings of Agriculture: New Data, New Ideas Current Anthropology (52): Supplement 4, S485-S495.

Greger Larson, Ranran Liu, Xingbo Zhao, Jing Yuan, Dorian Fuller, Loukas Barton, Keith Dobney, Qipeng Fan, Zhiliang Gu, Xiaohui Liu, Yunbing Luo, Peng Lv, Leif Andersson, Ning Li. Patterns of East Asian pig domestication, migration, and turnover revealed by modern and ancient DNA (2010) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107 (17): 7686-7691.


From the Department of Archaeology

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