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The Sheep People

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The overarching aim of The Sheep People is to examine what happens to the understanding of past societies when animals are perceived as sentient beings, agents with the ability to impact human lives. Not only are the agentive powers and potential of animals recognised, but also how this shaped prehistoric societies. Throughout, animals are considered as themselves, not as props, tools or consumables for human societies. A thorough review of recent research that supports the agential potential of animals from Human-Animal Studies and the social sciences, as well as ethology, biology and neurology is given, and discussed in light of the archaeological case study.

In the Early Bronze Age in northern Europe, a transition from building two-aisled to three-aisled longhouses as the primary farm dwelling took place. In Rogaland, southwestern Norway, this architectural change happened as the result of intensified human-sheep relationships, born from greater engagement and proximity needed to utilise wool. Evidence from landscape changes, settlements, mortuary practices and rock art give an in-depth understanding of the life-world of Bronze Age human and non-human agents and the nature of the choices they made. A rock art panel portraying sheep, man and dog demonstrates the entangled choreography of sheep herding.

Published: Jun 18, 2018

Section Chapter Authors
List of Figures Kristin Armstrong Oma
List of Tables Kristin Armstrong Oma
Acknowledgements Kristin Armstrong Oma
Chapter 1
Towards an Archaeology Informed by Human-Animal Studies Kristin Armstrong Oma
Chapter 2
Understanding Animals: Perception, Sentience and Anthropomorphism Kristin Armstrong Oma
Chapter 3
Animal Agency Kristin Armstrong Oma
Chapter 4
Three-aisled Houses in Early Bronze Age Rogaland: Who were the Household Members? Kristin Armstrong Oma
Chapter 5
A Closer Look at Sheep, Sheepdogs and the Dynamics of Herding Kristin Armstrong Oma
Chapter 6
The Sheep People: Towards an Archaeology of Ontology Kristin Armstrong Oma
End Matter
Appendix Kristin Armstrong Oma
Bibliography Kristin Armstrong Oma
Index Kristin Armstrong Oma


A groundbreaking book for seriously taking the ontological status and agency of sheep and sheepdogs into account.
This book is an enjoyable read and highly recommended to anyone interested in human-animal relations. Toward the end of the book, Oma brings up the interesting point that the economic imperatives of farming today have crucially influenced how zooarchaeologists have interpreted faunal remains: ‘Members of a household recognize each other as subjects, but in modern culture the average customer would not recognize the subject status inherent in a piece of meat from the supermarket’ (p. 152). It is very likely that the relationships of humans with domestic animals were quite different from the current economic, productivity-based attitudes of farming today. In this book, humans, sheepdogs and sheep are treated as subjects and given a great deal of life and agency.
Norwegian Archaeological Review

Oma has written a thought-provoking and also a very personal book, focusing on the significance of sheep rearing in the Early Bronze Age of south-west Norway. She combines sound theoretical underpinning with archaeological evidence and personal endeavour.
At a time when aDNA, strontium isotopes and other analyses from the natural sciences are dominating interpretations of archaeological materials, Oma takes us back to the relationship between humans and animals. This is not a study that is old fashioned or out of date; in fact, it reminds us that there is more to science than analysing samples and results, including a broader understanding of the relationship between people and animals. In this sense, the book is an important contribution in a context where knowledge must continually be justified; there are several different pathways to scientific knowledge and many alternative interpretations of the past.

This is a wonderfully written, richly illustrated monograph, which nominally presents the Bronze Age archaeology of a number of coastal settlements in Rogaland (southwestern Norway), but which in fact is a manifesto for a new type of mindful archaeology which includes human-animal relations at its heart. The author is one of the most passionate advocates for human-animals studies within archaeology, who has taken the time to organize special panels at multiple conferences, sponsor and academic networks, and publish articles that lay out her vision. This volume is a thickly referenced and passionately argued case for a rethinking of how space and architecture should always be associated with human-animal ensembles. A rich and welcome volume, which likely can be read a number of different ways and deserves a wider audience than that of archaeology.
Primitive Tider

Kristin Armstrong Oma has written an ambitious, thoughtful and important book. My guess is that Oma’s book will be a landmark in one of several important, new agendas for theoretical and empirical enquiry in 21st century archaeology.
VIKING, Norsk Arkeologisk Årbok