Domestication is when plants or animals are taken by humans, and kept, bred, and used in some way. Plants and animals are domesticated if they have been kept by humans for a long time. The word domestication is also used as a synonym of taming, though this word can apply to a single animal, but domestication concerns a population or a species as a whole.
Humans have brought animal populations under their care for a wide range of reasons: to produce food or valuable commodities (such as wool or silk), for help with various types of work, transportation and to enjoy as pets. Animals domesticated for home companionship are usually called pets while those domesticated for food are called livestock or farm animals.
Dates and places of domesticationEdit
Since the process of domestication can take a long period of time, and the spread of breed and husbandry techniques is also slow, it is not meaningful to give a single "date of domestication". The methods available to estimate domestication dates introduce further uncertainty, especially when domestication has occurred in the distant past. So the dates given here should be treated with caution; in some cases the evidence is scanty and future discoveries may alter the dating significantly.
Dates and places of domestication are mainly estimated by archaeological methods, more precisely archeozoology. These methods consist of excavating or studying the results of excavation in human prehistorical occupation sites. Animal remains are dated with archaeological methods, the species they belong to is determined, the age at death is also estimated, and if possible the form they had, that is to say a possible domestic form. Various other clues are taken advantage of, such as slaughter or cutting marks. The aim is to determine if they are game or raised animal, and more globally the nature of their relationship with humans. For example the skeleton of a cat found buried close to humans is a clue that it may have been a pet cat. The age structure of animal remains can also be a clue of husbandry, in which animals were killed at the optimal age.
New technologies and especially mitochondrial DNA provide an alternative angle of investigation, and make it possible to reestimate the dates of domestication based on research into the genealogical tree of modern domestic animals.
It is admitted for several species that domestication occurred in several places distinctly. However, this doesn't rule out later crossing inside a species; therefore it appears useless to look for a separate wild ancestor for each domestic breed.
The first animal to be domesticated appears to have been the dog, in the Upper Paleolithic era; this preceded the domestication of other species by several millennial. In the Neolithi] a number of important species (such as the goat, sheep, pig and cow) were domesticated, as part of the spread of farming which characterizes this period. The goat, sheep and pig in particular were domesticated independently in the Levant and Asia.
The availability of both domesticated vegetable and animal species increased suddenly following the voyages of Christopher Columbus and the contact between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
There is early evidence of beekeeping, in the form of rock paintings, dating to 13,000 BC.
Recent archaeological evidence from Cyprus indicates domestication of a type of cat by perhaps 7500 BC.
The earliest secure evidence of horse domestication, bit wear on horse molars at Dereivka in Ukraine, dates to around 4000BC. The unequivocal date of domestication and use as a means of transport is at the Sintashta chariot burials in the southern Urals, ca 2000 BC. Local equivalents and smaller species were domesticated from the 2500s BC.
Process of domestication Edit
There is debate within the scientific community over how the process of domestication works. Some researchers give credit to natural selection, wherein mutations outside of human control make some members of a species more compatible to human cultivation or companionship. Others have shown that carefully controlled selective breeding is responsible for many of the collective changes associated with domestication. These categories are not mutually exclusive and it is likely that natural selection and selective breeding have both played some role in the processes of domestication throughout history.
Nonetheless, some researchers maintain that selective breeding rather than mutation or natural selection best explains how the process of domestication typically worked. Some of the most well-known evidence in support of selective breeding comes from an experiment by Russian scientist, Dmitri Belyaev, in the 1950s. His team spent many years breeding the Silver Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and selecting only those individuals that showed the least fear of humans. Eventually, Belyaev's team selected only those that showed the most positive response to humans. He ended up with a population of grey-coloured foxes whose behavior and appearance was significantly changed. They no longer showed any fear of humans and often wagged their tails and licked their human caretakers to show affection. More importantly, these foxes had floppy ears, smaller skulls, rolled tails and other traits commonly found in dogs.
Despite the success of this experiment, some scientists believe that selective breeding cannot always achieve domestication. They point out that known attempts to domesticate several kinds of wild animals in this way have failed repeatedly. The zebra is one example. It is possible that the historical process of domestication cannot be fully explained by any one principle acting alone. Some combination of natural selection and selective breeding may have played a role in the domestication of the various species that humans have come into close contact with throughout history.
Domestication of animalsEdit
- Flexible diet — Creatures that are willing to consume a wide variety of food sources and can live off less cumulative food from the food pyramid (such as corn or wheat) are less expensive to keep in captivity. Most carnivores can only be fed meat, which requires the expenditure of many herbivores.
- Reasonably fast growth rate — Fast maturity rate compared to the human life span allows breeding intervention and makes the animal useful within an acceptable duration of caretaking. Large animals such as elephants require many years before they reach a useful size.
- Ability to be bred in captivity — Creatures that are reluctant to breed when kept in captivity do not produce useful offspring, and instead are limited to capture in their wild state. Creatures such as the panda and cheetah are difficult to breed in captivity.
- Pleasant disposition — Large creatures that are aggressive toward humans are dangerous to keep in captivity. The African buffalo has an unpredictable nature and is highly dangerous to humans. Although similar to domesticated pigs in many ways, American peccaries and Africa's warthogs and bushpigs are also dangerous in captivity.
- Temperament which makes it unlikely to panic — A creature with a nervous disposition is difficult to keep in captivity as they will attempt to flee whenever they are startled. The gazelle is very flighty and it has a powerful leap that allows it to escape an enclosed pen.
- Modifiable social hierarchy — Social creatures that recognize a hierarchy of dominance can be raised to recognize a human as its pack leader. Bighorn sheep cannot be herded because they lack a dominance hierarchy, whilst antelopes and giant forest hogs are territorial when breeding and cannot be maintained in crowded enclosures in captivity.
A herding instinct arguably aids in domesticating animals: tame one and others will follow, regardless of chiefdom.
Degrees of domestication Edit
The boundaries between surviving wild populations and domestic clades of elephants, for example, can become vague. This is due to their slow growth. Similar problems of definition arise when, for example, domesticated cats go feral. A classification system that can help solve this confusion might be set up on a spectrum of increasing domestication:
- Wild: These species experience their full life cycles without deliberate human intervention.
- Raised at zoos: These species are nurtured and sometimes bred under human control, but remain as a group essentially indistinguishable in appearance or behavior from their wild counterparts. (It should be noted that zoos sometimes exhibit domesticated or feral animals such as camels or mustangs.)
- Raised commercially: These species are ranched in large numbers for food, commodities, or the pet trade, but as a group they are not substantially altered in appearance or behavior. Examples include the elephant, ostrich, deer, alligator, cricket, pearl oyster, and ball python. (These species are sometimes referred to as partially domesticated.)
- Domesticated: These species or varieties are bred and raised under human control for many generations and are substantially altered as a group in appearance or behavior. Examples include the Canary, Pigeons, the Budgerigar, the peach-faced Lovebird, dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, chickens, llamas, guinea pigs and laboratory mice.
A great difference exists between a tame animal and a domesticated animal. The term "domesticated" refers to an entire species or variety while the term "tame" can refer to just one individual within a species or variety. Humans have tamed many thousands of animals that have never been truly domesticated. These include the elephant, giraffes, and bears. There is debate over whether some species have been domesticated or just tamed. Some state that the elephant has been domesticated, while others argue the cat has never been. One dividing line is whether a specimen born to wild parents would differ in behavior from one born to domesticated parents. For instance a dog is certainly domesticated because even a wolf (genetically the origin of all dogs) raised from a pup would be very different from a dog.
Limits of domestication Edit
Despite long enthusiasm about revolutionary progress in farming, few crops and probably even fewer animals ever became domesticated. While the process continues with plants (berryfruits, for example), it appears to have ceased with animals.
Domesticated species, when bred for tractability, companionship or ornamentation rather than for survival, can often fall prey to disease: several sub-species of apples or cattle, for example, face extinction; and many dogs with very respectable pedigrees appear prone to genetic problems.
One side-effect of domestication has been disease. For example, cattle have given humanity various viral poxes, measles, and tuberculosis; pigs gave influenza; and horses the rhinoviruses. Humans share over sixty diseases with dogs. Many parasites also have their origins in domestic animals.
See also Edit
- Discussion of animal domestication
- Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (ISBN 0-393-03891-2)
- News story about an early domesticated cat find
- Belyaev experiment with the domestic fox
- Use of Domestic Animals in Zoo Education
- The Initial Domestication of Cucurbita pepo in the Americas 10,000 Years Ago
- Phytolith evidence for early Holocene Cucurbita domestication in southwest Ecuador
- An Asian origin for a 10,000-year-old domesticated plant in the Americas