20120207-bull painting Museum_of_Anatolian_Civilizations003.jpg
bull painting from world's oldest village
The domestication of plants and animals took place around the same time. Hunter-gatherers and village horticulturists kept pets so they knew how to take care of animals. The domestication of animals took place when animals were raised as a source of food and labor. Grains were raised with the intent of feeding people and animals.

Some animals were domesticated so long ago that they have evolved as separate species. The process, some theorize, was as much accidental as intentional. With cats, for example, the anthropologist Richard Bullet suggests, the ancestors of cats were attracted to human settlements because they kept stores of grain that attracted mice they could fed on. Humans in turn tolerated the cats because they ate mice that fed on their grain and otherwise were not threatening.

Bullet as also theorized that horses, cattle and sheep were initially not domesticated for food but were domesticated for religious sacrifices. He argues it was more easy to hunt these animals than herd them and humans would have not gone through the trouble of keeping them unless they served some other purpose. He speculated that perhaps that unruly animals were sacrificed first to avoid trouble leaving more docile animals to mate and their offspring became increasingly tame.

20120207-onager f.jpg
onager, precursor of donkey
Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Human Prehistory users.hol.gr/~dilos/prehis.htm ; Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Prehistoric Art witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHprehistoric ; National Geographic Atlas of the Human Journey genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/atlas ; Early Modern Man: Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Virtual Ice Age creswell-crags.org.uk/Explore/virtually-the-ice-age ; Stone Age Tools aerobiologicalengineering.com

Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Origins of Agriculture comp-archaeology.org/AgricultureOrigins ; Britannica britannica.com/ ; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture said that ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis ; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication geochembio.com ; Food Timeline, History of Food foodtimeline.org ; Food and History teacheroz.com/food ;Iceman Photscan iceman.eurac.edu/ ; Otzi Official Site iceman.it

Domestication of Different Animals

Animal, Wild Progenitor, Region of Origin, Approximate Time of Domestication

Dog, Wolf, Western Asia (Israel, Iraq), 12,000 to 14,000 years ago

Pig, Boar, Southeast Turkey, Syria, 9,000 to 10,000 years ago

Goat, Bezoar goat, Western Asia (Iran), 9,000 to 10,000 years ago

20120207-ram in a thicketBm-ram2.jpg
goat in Mesopotamia
Sheep, Asiatic moufflon, Western Asia (Turkey, Syria), 9,000 years ago

Cattle, Aurochs, Western Asia (Turkey), 6,000 to 8,000 years ago

Cat, Cat, Northeast Africa, 5,000 years ago?

Chicken, Jungle Fowl, Southern Asia, 8,000 to 4,000 years ago

Reindeer, Reindeer , Northern Eurasia, Unknown

Llama, Guanaco?, South America , 7,000 years ago

Alpaca, Llama species?, South America, 7,000 years ago?

Horse, Horse, Central Asia , 6,000 years ago

Donkey, Ass , Arabia, North Africa, 6,000 years ago

Water buffalo, Water buffalo, Southern Asia, 6,000 years ago

Dromedary camel, camel , Arabia, 5,500 years ago

Bactrian camel, Camel, Central Asia, 5,500 years ago

Ducks, Ducks, Southeast Asia, 5,000 years ago

Guinea pig, Cavy, Andes in South America, 4,500 years ago

Guinea fowl, Guinea fowl, North Africa, 2,300 years ago

Mithan, Gaur, Southeast Asia, Unknown

Bali cattle, Banteng, Southeast Asia, Unknown

Rabbit, Rabbit, Iberia , Roman Era

Turkey, Turkey, North America, A.D. 100 to 500

Honeybee, Bee, Europe, A.D. 500

Goldfish, Carp, China, A.D. 960[Source: New York Times, Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution (Cambridge University Press), Dr. Michael Rosenburh/University of Delaware.

From Hunting to Domesticated Animals

goat in ancient Egypt
The progenitors of domesticated animals were hunted. With the development of agriculture early villages were built in areas where grain was eaten by people and animals was plentiful. It has been theorized that animals came to the hunters and hunters no longer to roam from place to place to find animals. Perhaps, wild animals were so plentiful that they were considered grain-eating pests instead of scarce animals that were hunted with great difficulty.

The transition from hunting big game animals to the hunting of smaller animal took place earlier in the Middle East than in Europe. As the last ice age waned hunters in what is now Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Israel switched from hunting large animals like giant wild cattle and red deer to a diet that included sheep, goats, antelopes, fish, crabs, shellfish, birds and snails as well as acorns, pistachios and other nuts, wild legumes and wild grains.

In the early days of animal domestication, it is theorized, semi-domestic wild animals were allowed to eat the stubble left behind after the grain was harvested. Later when they were domesticated they were fed husks and stalks not consumed by humans. Later they were penned, fed stubble, milked and slaughter selectively. Selective breeding produced goats, sheep, cattle and pigs that were smaller and more docile than their wild counterparts.

The domestication of animals, led to their regulation and control, which in turn is likely to have kept them from becoming overhunted and pssobly made extinct. Draft animals were introduced in Asia about 4000 B.C.

Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals in Africa

The development of agriculture and livestock was different in Africa than it was elsewhere in the world. In Africa it seems that the domestication of cattle, which was first documented in Chad in 5900 B.C., preceded the development of agriculture by several thousand years and spread sporadically in fits and starts across the continent. [Source: Brenda Fowlers, New York Times, July 17 2004]

Why agriculture was so late in developing sub-Sahara Africa---the first cultivated grain, pearl millet, was first farmed around 2000 B.C. in Mauritania and Ghana--- was the subject of intensive research in the early 2000s. One theory was that grain was so abundant everywhere that there was no need to settle down and farm.

Dr. Angela Close, an archaeologist at the University of Washington, told the New York Times, the first pastoralists in Africa probably captured wild animals to provide insurance as the Sahara, partly covered with grasslands in ancient times, began to dry. They then moved south and evolved into ---cattle-assisted hunter gatherers--- and took meat, milk and blood from their cattle for food. Pastoralism gradually spread west across the southern Sahara and reached the equator around 2000 B.C. and South Africa by the first centuries A.D. These African also developed pottery and settled communities before agriculture.

20120207-livestock 702px-Fetekti3.jpg
cattle in ancient Egypt

Domesticated wheat, barley, sheep and goats reached ancient Egypt by 5500 B.C. Goats and sheep were adopted by pastoralists in the southern Sahara but grains did not take hold probably because they required winter rain---in most of Africa the rains come in the summer. At ancient sites in sub-Saharan Africa cattle bones turn up with domesticated millet , suggesting pastorialists practicing agriculture. Sometimes these farmers lived in villages.

Dr. Katharina Neumann, an archeobiologist at the J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt and author the book Food, Fuel and Fields---Progress in African Archeobotany (2003), said the evidence suggests that cattle in Africa were domesticated independently of the Near East about 9000 years ago and Africans found no need to develop agriculture because grasslands covered 80 of sub-Saharan Africa and many varieties of wild grasses, fruits, tubers and game could be hunted and gathered. In article in the journal African Archaeology she wrote that there has been an implicit assumption among archaeologists that “agriculture is superior to the foraging of wild plants and that with the invention of agrarian practices, economies based on wild resources are no longer competitive.”

The first domesticated plant in Africa was not a grain but rather was watermelon. Domesticated watermelon seeds dated to 4000 B.C. were found in the 1980s in southern Libya. Dorian Fuller of University College London told the New York Times, “The wild watermelon is a horrible, dry little gourd that grows in wadis of the northern savannahs but it has seeds you can roast up and eat.” The watermelon we eat was not developed until Roman times Fuller and other archaeologists hypothesize.

Domesticated Animals in Pre-Historic Meso-America

aurochs in ancient cave art
In North America, animals were domesticated much later and fewer of them were domesticated than in the Old World. Only turkeys and dogs were raised for food. Eating dogs and turkeys is somewhat inefficient because dogs feed on meat, and turkeys on grain---both food favored by humans. In contrast, goats, cattle and sheep---among the first Old World animals to be domesticated---fed on foods like grass and leaves not eaten by humans.

Llamas and alpacas, the only New World animals comparable to sheep and goats, were domesticated by Andean people as a source of meat beginning around 2,500 B.C. It is believed that these animals were domesticated so late because they weren’t hunted as a semi-domesticated animals like Old World animals such as goats and cattle were.

Llamas and alpacas were useless of plowing. The mountains where there are found is not well-suited for growing many things other than potatoes anyway. In any case they were difficult to raise in captivity (vicuna, a wild relative of the llama and alpaca, doesn't mate in captivity because it can't perform its elaborate courtship ritual) and eventually took on a role like that of the camel in the Middle East.

Bison proved to be too difficult to domesticate. The Indians that lived off them seemed happy enough following their herds and hunting them anyway. Guinea pigs were domesticated the Andes about 2500 B.C.

Consequences of Agriculture and Animal Domestication

The development of agriculture, grain storage and animals domestication made it possible to for populations to expand. Women became more sedentary which made it easier to raise large numbers of children. Children were no longer a burden that had to be carried along. They could harnessed at an early age to perform agricultural chores.

The population of the Middle East jumped from 100,000 in 8,000 B.C. to 3.2 million before 4,000 B.C. (a fortyfold increase in 4,000 years).

After agriculture and herding were developed, people were from freed foraging for food and were able to develop complex technologies and social organizations that gave them an edge over the people they conquered.

Timothy Taylor, an English archaeologist, has argued that the invention of farming played a major role in the oppression of women. "The domestication of animals and the availability of animal milk in addition to breast milk meant that women could raise their children in quicker succession than before, becoming even more tied to the hearth and home in the process."

Agriculture also led to the a more hierarchal society: When irrigation was developed someone had to control the water supplies and large numbers of laborers were needed to dig the ditches. The development of irrigation about 8,200 years ago occurred at a time when the world was undergoing a mini Ice Age.

Population increases produced deforestation and soil erosion. The pressure from domesticated animals caused large areas to become transformed into scrubland. It has been theorized that as this happened meat again became scarce, nutritional standards fell, disease were transmitted among domestic animals, setting the stage for a new age in which warfare and violence would play a major part in the lives of people.

Lack of Wheel and Domesticated Animals in the Americas

The Maya originated a complex system of writing and pioneered the mathematical concept of zero. Yet they never built the wheel and the only animal they domesticated for food was the turkey. In addition to not having the wheel it doesn't seem the Maya used metal either. Most of their tools were made from stone. Good goods were transported overland on the backs of human beings rather by pack animals or carts. When you consider that they built the incredible cities they did without animals and metal their achievements seem all that much more remarkable.

In New World, the wheel was invented by Indians as a children’s toy and used in pottery, but was not used more extensively arguably because of a lack of a good beasts of burden. Failure to develop the wheel left the New World technologically behind the Old World.

Anthologists believe that Old World people developed more quickly and became more technologically advanced than people in the New World because they domesticated animals earlier which in turn made it easier for them to get around easier and perform labor that required beasts of burden.

First Domesticated Goats

Bezoar goat
Goats first appeared around 5 million years ago. The lived primarily in mountainous habitats and spread out an inhabited other region. Modern goats can eat food that other animals can't partly because the originated from harsh, rocky mountain environments.

Goats rank with pigs and dogs as one of the earliest domesticated animals and rank with sheep as one of the first animals to be kept for milk. Modern goats are believed to have been domesticated from Markor goats or Bezoar goats from Western Asia about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago. Wild Markor goats can still be found in the dry mountains of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

Bones from what appear to be domesticated goats have been found in Iraq and Iran dated to from 8,500 B.C. . Ganj Dareh, a 10,000-year-old site in the Fertile Crescent, yielded a number bones of many small goats. Archeologist believe that these goats were domesticated rather than wild based on the practice of hunter societies to kill the largest animals available while herders kill smaller animals and keep the large ones to breed.

People who lived in Iran 9,000 years ago kept a few males to breed and killed off the rest of the male goats at age two, about the time they reached sexual maturity, while females were allowed to grow older because they supplied milk and produced babies, a pattern that continues today.

The Mesopotamians wrote poems about goats, depicted them in golden sculptures, worshiped them as gods and made the goat-god Capricorn into a Zodiac sign. Goats were taken all over the world to trade as sources of meat, wool and milk. Goats are mentioned in the Bible as well as in Buddhist, Confucian and Zoroastrian texts. In Greek myths, the gods were nursed on goats milk.

First Domesticated Cattle

auroch bones
Modern cattle are descended from two species---wild cattle ( Bos taurus ) of Europe and the humpbacked (zebu) cattle of Asia ( Bos Indicus ). Most species in Europe, Oceania and the Western Hemisphere evolved from two subspecies of Bos taurus ---the long horned aurochs ( taurus primegenius also known as Bos primigenius ) and to a lesser extent from the relatively small short-horned Celtic Ox ( taurus longifrons ).

Members of the even-toed ungulate family and cousins of buffalo, musk oxen, wild oxen and yaks, aurochs were huge animals, standing two meters at the shoulder, with long horns. Bulls were black with a white stripe running down their back. Cows were slightly smaller and reddish brown in color. Domesticated cattle are much smaller than aurochs.

Auroch ranged across Africa, Asia and Europe. Early men hunted them and depicted them in 30,000-year-old rock paintings. Their bones have been found at many early human settlements. Small shrines made from their horns were erected in 8,000-year-old settlements in Turkey. They endured until the 17th century when were made extinct by hunting and deforestation. The last auroch died in Poland's Jactorowka Forest in 1627.

Domestication of Cattle

20120207-aurcoj painting_blank.png
Cattle are believed to have been domesticated from aurochs from Western Asia between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Evidence of domesticated cattle has been found in archeological sites dated to 6400 B.C. Cattle appears to have been domesticated separately in Africa---with the earliest evidence of this happening occurring in northwestern Sudan about 8,000 years ago.

The bones of early domesticated cattle are thought to be from domesticated animals rather than wild ones based on the fact that the bones were mostly from males roughly the same age. If the animals were wild they would a wider range of ages and more female bones would have been present (herders often slaughter males and keep females because they produce offspring). There was also wear and tear on the vertebrae which likely indicates they had been used as beasts of burden

DNA studies indicate that most cattle from Europe, northern Asia and Africa have closely related DNA sequences that correspond closely to Bos taurus from the Middle East, while the DNA of humped zebu cattle, originally from India and Pakistan, is closest to zebu-like versions of the wild ox and the DNA of cattle from Africa is closest to the North African version of the wild ox. DNA studies of European cattle have found that their DNA is more similar to ancient aurochs from the Middle East than Celtic Oxen cattle from Europe.

Domesticating cattle must have been a more difficult than domesticating sheep and goats because aurochs are so large Over time the aurochs were tamed and cattle were created that could live with humans through breeding desired characteristics. Among the first developments were beasts of smaller size that were easy to control.

One of the oldest surviving breeds of domestic cattle is found in a walled park at Chillingham in the Cheviot Hills in Britain. Batting back to the 13th century, these animals are smaller than aurochs but still retain an element of wildness. The males are still very aggressive. If they are threatened they form a ring and charge any perceived threat. One dominate male rules the herd, mates with the females and fights off male rivals. Each dominant male hold his place for two or three years.

First Domesticated Horses

Przewalski horse
relative of first horses
The Eurasia steppe is the only place that horses survived after the last Ice Age. Domestication is believed to have occurred around 3000 B.C. when horses suddenly appeared in places where they hadn't been seen before like Turkey and Switzerland. It is difficult to pin down when domestication took place partly because the bones of wild horses and domesticated horses are virtually the same. [Source: William Speed Weed, Discover magazine, March 2002]

Horses are believed to have been domesticated from wild horses from Central Asia about 6,000 years ago. Ancient men viewed horses primarily as a source of meat and hunted them like other animals. One effective method of hunting horses was driving them over cliffs.

The first domesticated horses are believed to have been horses that were herded rather than hunted. Later they were used as beast of burdens, and later still they were ridden. Horse are believed to have first been ridden to keep track of domesticated animals that ranged over large expanses on the steppe. Some people have speculated that the first horsemen drank the blood of their animals as cattle-herding tribes in East Africa do today.

The first horseback riders and domesticated horses were originally believed to have come from Sredni Stog culture, a site in the steppe areas east of the Dnieper River and north of the Black Sea in what is now the Ukraine, dated between 4200 and 3500 B.C. Russian archeologists excavated Sredny Stog in the 1960s and found scraps of bone and horn that resembled the cheek pieces of bridles plus wear and tear on the teeth of an excavated horse that resembled the wear and tear caused by wearing a bit. Archeologist David Anthony of Hartwick College in New York examined horse teeth found at Sredni Stog sites and concluded the horse teeth dated to 400 B.C., and the site not the home of 6000-year-old riders.

Prezewalsky horses

First Domesticated Pigs

Pigs are believed to have been domesticated from boars 10,000 years ago in Turkey, a Muslim country that ironically frowns upon pork eating today. At a 10,000-year-old Turkish archeological site known as Hallan Cemi, scientists looking for evidence of early agriculture stumbled across of large cache of pig bones instead. The archaeologists reasoned the bones came from domesticated pigs, not wild ones, because most of the bones belonged to males over a year old. The females, they believe, were saved so they could produce more pigs.

Pigs were originally tuber-eating forest and swamp creatures. They had difficulty living in the deserts of the Middle East because they don't sweat and therefore can't cool themselves. When pigs were first domesticated there were vast forest areas in what is now Turkey and the Middle East. There was enough water and shade to support small number of pigs, but as population in the Middle East grew, deforestation degraded the environments best suited for pigs.

First Domesticated Sheep

Asiatic moufflon
People have worn wool for at least 12,000 years. Early wool was taken from wild sheep and goats and was likely worn with the skin attached it and as primitive felt by mashing the fibers together long before it was made into anything resembling fabric.

Sheep were first domesticated in Western Asia (Turkey, Syria and Iran) from Asiatic moufflon Ancient sheep roamed pastures and grassland with people for at least 11,000 years and are thought to have been domesticated at least 9,000 ago. Sheep bones, dated to 9000 B.C., found at a site called Zawi Chemi Shandidir in the foothills of the Zagros mountains in what is now Iran, suggests that sheep were being kept in herds at that time.

Moufflon are a kind of wild sheep still found in remote parts of Europe and Western Asia. They are small and have long legs. Both the ram and ewe have heavy ringed horns and develop a wooly undercoat in the winter and shed it in the summer. Wild moufloun still live in the mountains of Corsica and Sardinia. In the 1970s, an Asian mouflon was born to a domestic wool sheep.

Varieties of wild goat and sheep are found in mountain regions in Asia, Europe and North America. Prehistoric sheep had dark hairy coats, horns and their wool could be pulled off by hand. Their closest relatives today are the sheep that are kept off the Shetland Islands off Scotland and the wild Soay, sheep on the uninhabited island of St. Kilda off the west coast of Scotland.

Sheep, some argue, have been as important to civilization as agriculture. One of the first domesticated animals, they provided man with food, clothing and shelter, and man providing the sheep with protection from predators. Over centuries, sheep were bred by men to have long white wool that was first cut off with Iron Age shears. Most domesticated varieties don't have horns.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Mostly from National Geographic and New York Times articles. Also from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated March 2011

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