Sheep were among the first animals domesticated. Evidence discovered in an archeological site in Iran suggests that breeding sheep for their wool had begun over 6000 years ago.
Sheep originated from originated from the wild sheep variety called "mouflon." Mouflon live in the mountains of European and Asian countries. The mouflon is reddish brown in color with a dark stripe along the back and light or white coloring on its belly and legs. The sheep we see today look strikingly like the animals illustrated in Mesopotamian and Babylonian art and books in 3,000 B.C.
These wolly clusters of camp followers are prized mainly for their wool types, but some breeds are raised for meat. The meat of an adult sheep is called mutton. Young sheep are referred to as lambs. There are over 200 distinct breeds of sheep each producing distinctive types and quality of wool fibers which are used to make clothing and other fabrics. Because sheep were first domesticated in Iran, it should be no surprise that the invention of the Spinning Wheel came from Baghdad, undoubtedly as a method of processing sheared wool into thread. Today artisans and manufacturers alike continue to weave clothing and other fabrics, such as rugs and blankets from wool sheared from these invaluable beasts.
Sheep and Lamb Ornaments
Sheep commonly appear in folk art along side other important domesticated animals such as cows and chickens. Sheep are among the first animals that were domesticated for food and clothing purposes after humans transitioned from hunting and gathering into agricultural societies.
The hair and skin of sheep is called wool or fleece and was among the first textiles used to make clothing, footwear and rugs and many more products. Meat from sheep is called lamb when it is from younger animals and hogget or mutton when it is from older sheep. Milk from sheep is used for cheese and yogurt making primarily.
Sheep appear in traditional stories and nursery rhymes such as, Little Bo Peep, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, and Mary Had a Little Lamb. In Ancient Egypt, the ram symbolized several gods: Khnum, Heryshaf and Amun. Aries, the ram, is the first sign in the astrological Greek zodiac. The sheep also is associated with the 12-year cycle of in the Chinese zodiac. In English language male sheep are often used as symbols of virility and power, however, to call someone a sheep can imply timidity or stupidity.
Folk and Peasant Sheep
In the Christian religion, followers are commonly referred to as a flock. In fact, the word for a pastor or church leader, is derived from the Latin word for shepherd.