Animal fibre use in the Keriya valley (Xinjiang, China) during the Bronze and Iron Ages: A proteomic approach

Publication date: October 2019

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 110

Author(s): Clara Azémard, Antoine Zazzo, Arul Marie, Sébastien Lepetz, Corinne Debaine-Francfort, Abduressul Idriss, Séverine Zirah


Textile technology strongly advanced with sedentism and pastoralism. During prehistory, many populations settled in central Eurasia, a place of extensive exchange and cultural contact. In the Taklamakan desert, the dry climate enabled good preservation of ancient textiles. The study presented here aimed to identify animal fibres from Bronze Age and Iron Age sites in the Keriya valley (Xinjiang, China) using proteomics. A large corpus of 109 keratin extracts obtained from raw fibres or textiles was analysed, enabling us to establish a corrected and improved list of peptide markers for the identification of species, not only among the family Bovidae, but also for camels and humans. In total, we were able to identify 97% of the sampled objects to the taxonomic level of tribe and 85% of caprines to the level of genus. The assemblage was dominated by hair of sheep (57.8%) followed by goat (16.5%), cattle (8.3%), camel (0.9%), human (0.9%) and non-differentiated Caprinae (sheep or goat) (12.8%). The study showed a continuity between the two sites in this respect. It revealed a choice of raw material linked to the function of the textile, with most woven textiles being made from sheep’s wool and most pelts being obtained from goat. Comparison with the bone assemblage of one of the sites provided insight into the herd management strategies. The results confirm the heuristic potential of the proteomic approach for the determination of archaeological fibres and for textile studies in general. Data are available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD012189.