The domestication of plants and animals was one of the most important events in human history, but rarely have archaeologists been able to catch the process in the act. Now, research at an 11,000-year-old settlement in Turkey shows that some early farmers kept wild sheep penned up in the middle of their village—thus setting the stage for the dramatic changes that led to today’s domesticated animals.
Archaeologists studying the origins of farming have hundreds of sites to choose from across the Middle East, but few of them tell the full story. That requires a spot that spans the transition between a hunting and gathering lifestyle and a farming lifestyle, a period from about 10,500 to 9500 years ago. Researchers have long had their eyes on just such a site: Aşıklı Höyük, located on the banks of the Melendiz River in central Turkey—a land of idyllic streams and dramatic volcanic formations popular with tourists.