PalaeoFarm is an ERC-funded project running from 2020 to 2025 and based jointly out of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the University of Oxford. Led by Dr. Laurent Franz, this project investigates the genetic and phenotypic variability of domestic animal species across the past two millennia in Eurasia. The development of specific breeds of domestic animals in the past is likely linked to improvement in productivity, however, it is unclear if this impacted animal resilience to zoonotic pathogens. Today, modern industrial animal populations have limited genetic variability and it may be that the pursuit of productivity via artificial selection has reduced animal resilience to disease as well as reduced the variability of local breed phenotypes that were uniquely developed for specific local ecologies.
PalaeoFarm will investigate urban medieval zooarchaeological assemblages and mass mortality sites from across Europe using both destructive (aDNA) and non-destructive (GMM) techniques on animal remains such as teeth, mandibles, and other postcranial bones. Using a combination of ancient DNA and geometric morphometric methods, this project will track changes in cattle, pigs, and chickens in the archaeological record to look for the first appearance of modern breed types, investigate the evidence for past outbreaks of epidemics, and characterise the relative variation in diversity in these species. In so doing, we will be able to investigate animal resilience to disease, but also investigate how broad-scale trends in human cultural practices, such as local livestock rearing traditions, animal trade, and consumption impacted domestic animals in our era.