The 10,000-year biocultural history of fallow deer and its implications for conservation policy

Karis H. Baker, Holly Miller, Sean Doherty, Howard W. I. Gray, Julie Daujat, Canan Çakırlar, Nikolai Spassov, Katerina Trantalidou, Richard Madgwick, Angela L. Lamb, Carly Ameen, Levent Atici, Polydora Baker, Fiona Beglane, Helene Benkert, Robin Bendrey, Annelise Binois-Roman, Ruth F. Carden, Antonio Curci, Bea De CupereCleia Detry, Erika Gál, Chloé Genies, Günther K. Kunst, Robert Liddiard, Rebecca Nicholson, Sophia Perdikaris, Joris Peters, Fabienne Pigière, Aleksander G. Pluskowski, Peta Sadler, Sandra Sicard, Lena Strid, Jack Sudds, Robert Symmons, Katie Tardio, Alejandro Valenzuela, Monique van Veen, Sonja Vuković, Jaco Weinstock, Barbara Wilkens, Roger J. A. Wilson, Jane A. Evans, A. Rus Hoelzel, Naomi Sykes

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Over the last 10,000 y, humans have manipulated fallow deer populations with varying outcomes. Persian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica) are now endangered. European fallow deer (Dama dama) are globally widespread and are simultaneously considered wild, domestic, endangered, invasive and are even the national animal of Barbuda and Antigua. Despite their close association with people, there is no consensus regarding their natural ranges or the timing and circumstances of their human-mediated trans-locations and extirpations. Our mitochondrial analyses of modern and archaeological specimens revealed two distinct clades of European fallow deer present in Anatolia and the Balkans. Zooarchaeological evidence suggests these regions were their sole glacial refugia. By combining biomolecular analyses with archaeological and textual evidence, we chart the declining distribution of Persian fallow deer and demonstrate that humans repeatedly translocated European fallow deer, sourced from the most geographically distant populations. Deer taken to Neolithic Chios and Rhodes derived not from nearby Anatolia, but from the Balkans. Though fallow deer were translocated throughout the Mediterranean as part of their association with the Greco-Roman goddesses Artemis and Diana, deer taken to Roman Mallorca were not locally available Dama dama, but Dama mesopotamica. Romans also initially introduced fallow deer to Northern Europe but the species became extinct and was reintroduced in the medieval period, this time from Anatolia. European colonial powers then transported deer populations across the globe. The biocultural histories of fallow deer challenge preconceptions about the divisions between wild and domestic species and provide information that should underpin
modern management strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2310051121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)
Issue number8
Early online date12 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2024


  • fallow deer
  • translocations
  • extinctions
  • zooarchaeology
  • biomolecules

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