Skip to comments.Domestication Event: Why The Donkey And Not The Zebra?
Posted on 10/23/2006 12:00:01 PM PDT by blam
Domestication event: Why the donkey and not the zebra?
By Eric Hand
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS - A few years ago, Egyptologists found a new Pharaonic burial site more than 5,000 years old. They opened up a tomb.
"They're expecting to find nobles, the highest courtiers," said Washington University archaeologist Fiona Marshall. "And what do they find? Ten donkey skeletons."
"The ancient Egyptian burial shows how highly valued (donkeys) were for the world's first nation state. After the horse came, they became lower status. Of course, they're the butt of jokes and all the rest of it. That has to do with the name mostly."
Hee haw. Marshall wants to know how the donkey was domesticated from the Somali wild ass. By traveling around the world, searching for bones in London museums and African deserts, she hopes to pinpoint the time and place of this event, which Marshall says was as revolutionary as the invention of the steam engine.
She also hopes to understand why the ass was domesticated and not, say, the zebra.
Animal domestication events are rare in human history. Of 148 land-dwelling mammals that weigh more than 100 pounds, only 14 were domesticated. These animals tend to have certain characteristics, like a strong hierarchy. That allows humans to slip in atop the order. Calm, social and non-territorial animals also made good candidates.
Yet wild asses - stubborn, territorial, flighty - have none of these characteristics. "That is the conundrum. By all the rules of domestication, they're not at all suitable," Marshall said.
Marshall is working with St. Louis Zoo researcher Cheryl Asa to understand how asses breed and behave in captivity, which could provide clues as to how they were turned into donkeys.
The St. Louis Zoo has five wild asses. Only a few dozen are kept in North American zoos, and only a few thousand cling to war-torn lands in Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia, where the zoo is funding conservation work.
While the vicious and flighty zebra has resisted domestication even by modern biologists, the ass was somehow domesticated in these lands at least 6,000 years ago, according to Marshall.
Pinpointing domestication events is a challenge. Marshall looks for subtle things to distinguish donkey and ass bones, like arthritis in a shoulder bone - evidence of a pack-laden animal.
The events are important to archaeologists because they have huge historical implications. Domesticated plants and animals let farmers stockpile food in a more predictable way, said Melinda Zeder, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History.
"Domestication around the world has certainly been an incredible lever for human change," she said.
In one theory, the large number of domesticated plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent of the ancient Near East spread easily across the east-west axis of Eurasia. In his Pulitzer-prize winning book "Guns, Germs and Steel," Jared Diamond credits that for the eventual dominance of European powers.
Marshall said, "It helps us understand the trajectory that's been taken to the modern world. The places that are wealthy and powerful today had good conditions for domestication long ago."
But in Africa, something different happened, she said. Few plants were domesticated. Africans did domesticate cattle and donkeys, but that didn't encourage an intensive, settled agriculture. Instead, a herding culture thrived. Donkeys were the engines that moved men, women and children from pasture to pasture with their cattle and belongings.
Pastoralism is dying in the modern world as intensive, agricultural societies prevail economically. But Marshall says donkeys still have an important role to play.
Mules, the sterile offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, are used for agriculture the world over and renowned for their endurance. Miniature mules are now popular as pets. And donkeys are making a comeback as transportation for eco-tourists in southeastern Europe, Marshall said.
"The donkey is a gift that Africa had for the world," she said.
The estimated date and place for animal domestication changes as archaeologists find new evidence.
Dog_13,000 B.C._Asia, Europe
Pig_10,000 B.C._Near East
Sheep, Goat_9,000 B.C._Near East, South Asia
Cattle_8,000 B.C._Near East
Horse_3,000 B.C._Central Asia
Liberal Human Male, 1960s, U.S.A.
Secret Democrat burial ground?
Egypt was the world's first nation-state?
re: "wild asses"
definition: effect on the female derrier after multiple pregnancies.
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All but the Cat actually has a use.
If you were an ancient farmer or sailor who's stored food was being depleted by rodents you might think different.
i must respectfully disagree. i live out in the country and my mother lives blocks away from the local butcher shop. cats can be wonderful tools to keep the local rodent population down. sadly, they can also bring home trophies of headless cottontails (who usually are great at wiping out one's vegetable garden or fall display garden)!
I believe most people believe the cat was domesticated in Egypt, not Europe as the chart above says.
Short legs; you don't have to stand on tiptoe to load them up.
Chinchilla - South America
Llama - South America
Chicken - ??? Asia, Europe, (the Americas?)
Honey bees - ???
Rabbits - ???
A cat kills to eat, a terrier kills for the sport of it.
Only the elephant can dance, and it poorly.
My husband had the same attitude about cats until one day all our cats were gone. We store 2 tons of grain at a time to feed our horses. It didn't take long for the place to get overrun with mice. So we went out and got some cats. He's actually finally taken a liking to some of the cats.
Sadly?? What's so sad about that? Those flop eared monsters have been digging their holes in the roots of my poor young fruit trees and helping themselves to my vegetables all summer!! I wish my useless cat would go catch a wheelbarrow load.
Signed, Mr. MacGregor
notice the lack of any sarcasm tag here...
A horse and a zebra are essentially the same animal. If europeans could domesticate one, the africans should have been able to domesticate the other. Jared Diamond's argument that Africa lacked domesticatable species was utter nonsense.
I knew that would rile the cat crowd.
lol sorry...it's just that the ones my calico's brought home have been babies. i can empathize with you, however. i live rurally but my mom lives 'in town' (which is still rural). every spring she'd spend hundreds of dollars at the nursery only to find all her pretty things ravaged by peter cotton tail and friends. i don't yet have a garden as i'm concentrating on readying my donkeys for breeding next year. i have 3 sicilian jennies and a jack.
i guess i'm still a softy at heart for the cute and cuddly looking. note, i said 'looking'. i had a pet rabbit a few years ago. she went 'adios' after going 'apey' & attacking me twice and lunging at my then-toddlers. the trophies my cat's brought home have either been laid upon my doorstep or under the wheels of my truck where i can't see them. it's usually upon my return home that i find the evidence of the kill in the driveway....but i've been the one responsible for some of the 'mutilations' ...i.e. squooshed guts & brain matter. not a pleasant site when you're about to prepare steak and mashed potatoes, you know.
not a cat person at all, really. got my first cat last year and my second one before x'mas. mostly out of necessity as we keep horses and donks and have a barn close enough to the house that cats were necessary to keep mickey & minnie from playing house in our house or where we keep the feed.
Cats aren't domesticated; they decided to live with people because we attract good things to eat, like mice. Of course, we've completely misunderstood this and now feed them directly, but that's OK with the cats, too.
With dogs you get devotion; with cats you get mutual utility and, possibly, friendship between equals.
I once adopted a feral farm cat (and her surviving kittens). They all got plenty to eat, after they moved in with me, but the mother continued to kill mice. I once estimated that she was averaging at least 5 mice a day, from the fields around the house. I never saw any evidence that she was eating them.
i thought the same thing! lol the democrats really need to change their party mascot to something a little more in line with their personality. my donks are brave, strong, and extremely courageous as well as loyal & loving. they don't "cut & run" either. any suggestions on what could be defined as a cowardly animal to replace the donkey mascot?
The Democrats didn't choose their own mascot. It was assigned to them by a Republican, newspaper, comic artist, in the 19th century. I think it was in the 1870s.
Isn't there substantial evidence of dogs living with Neandertals? More than 40,000 years ago?
Well, not exactly.
A zebra is to a horse what a wolf is to a dog.
Is a wolf a dog?
Well, yes, in a way.
But no, you can't really domesticate them.
Yes, there are people who keep wolves as pets. It's a really bad idea. The wolf, if it grows up as a puppy, can beocme very attached to the household, but it's not a dog. It's a wolf, and it's never very comfortable around other people. It looks like a dog, maybe a husky, but it doesn't ACT like a dog. It's not friendly. It's extremely protective of the family, and it's a dangerous beast inside the house. No, not (necessarily) dangerous to the family it loves and is part of, but dangerous to everybody else, including invited guests.
Wolf puppies are like bear cubs: they are playful and friendly, but grow up to be wolves and bears. Maybe they like YOU, but they do not like our SPECIES; dogs do. Zebras are probably like that.
In Genesis 43.17, Joseph's brothers are afraid that the Egyptians will enslave them, "and take our donkeys too."
I think a long time ago the Democrat symbol (to help illiterate voters cast their ballots) was a rooster, before the cartoon jackass caught on.
all the more reason for them to make a change. i think the artist was being too kind. *natch, natch, wink*. when i look at my donks, i don't see cowardly creatures. quite the opposite. i'm leaning toward pollyannaish's suggestion. but those are hard to find. lol
Humans did not domesticate the cat. The cat domesticated humans. I daily serve as a cat doorman, a cat foodserver and food provider, a cat chaser (stimulation), medical provider, ad infinitum. And I don't mind -- he keeps me greatly entertained.
Jared Diamond's entire book was utter anti-western nonsense, how else could it have won him a Pulitzer?
"Well, not exactly.
A zebra is to a horse what a wolf is to a dog. "
Dogs are derived from wolves that were domesticated thousands of years ago. The horse and zebra were probably the same species a hundred thousand years ago. Zebras today are probably much like Horses were when they were first domesticated. Over time with selective breeding, desirable traits are enhanced and the species diverge. I bet ancient Europeons would have no more trouble domesticating the Zebra than the original horse.
Dogs have owners, cats have staff.
So right. They're really quite amazing to study.
There is a European Wild Cat (Felis silvestris silvestris) that looks just like our domestic housecat, but as I understand it, all attempts to domesticate it have failed. It's just too wild. The African Wild Cat is domesticable, and is assumed to be the ancestor of housecats.
Some years ago I had a friend who had a cat that he claimed was half Bobcat, half domestic. I don't know if such a thing is possible, but that cat actually looked like a bobcat/housecat hybrid, and it behaved like one, too. It was definitely not a purry, loveable lapcat, even though he had raised it from a kitten. It had longer legs than a normal housecat, too.
Impeccable reasoning on your part. I threw the book at a wall after a few chapters when I saw where it was going.
"....Only the elephant can dance, and it poorly...."
Cranes, on the other hand, dance elegantly.
I believe Diamond's distinction in "Guns, Germs and Steel" was in the herd nature of the animals. Ie Horses will follow their herd "leader" while Zebras will not follow the herd leader but resemble an pack of indpendant animals more. Humans can domesticate the animals that then follow them as the herd leader.
I agree Diamond is a lib. But His book does look at a larger system view of why some cultures dominate and some get wiped out. It's a good read for those interested in looking at how weapon/technology was passed/stolen among cultures. He discusses why those with domesticated animals develop immunities to germs that wipe out other cultures. Of course he missed the larger picture that those Countries that follow God and promote Freedom are More "inspired" and develop quicker. So his book is flawed in not acknowledgeing God. But as for analyzing the underlying processes that Plant and Animal domestication and transfer of technology and language among peoples, it's OK. I really thought it was a good read, and I'm a strict constitutionalist politially.
He has been criticized by the Green/Eco movement quite a bit too for the work he has done with Oil Companies, he talks about it in his next book, Collapse.
I believe you are correct. It is my understanding that all domestic cats descended from the African Wildcat, like the one pictured here:
I have also read that the domestic cat spread throughout the world so quickly because they took quite willingly to ships. Because of the rats that most ships were plagued with, sailors loved to have a good cat aboard who was happy to hunt rats all day down in the holds.
She was just keeping in practice, in case you ever kicked her out.
Good insight. Because there are tame zebras in the circus.
I'm not an expert but I believe that camels meet your definition of domesticated. (I don't think there are significant wild herds, and racing camels have been bread for hundreds of years (or more).
I don't know much about water buffalo or llamas and alpacas.
Yak wander around in herds on the Tibetan plateau?