Skip to comments.Domestication Of The Donkey May Have Taken A Long Time
Posted on 03/13/2008 6:36:00 PM PDT by blam
Domestication Of The Donkey May Have Taken A Long Time
An international group of researchers has found evidence for the earliest transport use of the donkey and the early phases of donkey domestication, suggesting the process of domestication may have been slower and less linear than previously thought. (Credit: iStockphoto/Andrea Laurita)
ScienceDaily (Mar. 13, 2008) An international group of researchers has found evidence for the earliest transport use of the donkey and the early phases of donkey domestication, suggesting the process of domestication may have been slower and less linear than previously thought.
Based on a study of 10 donkey skeletons from three graves dedicated to donkeys in the funerary complex of one of the first Pharaoh's at Abydos, Egypt, the team, led by Fiona Marshall, Ph.D., professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and Stine Rossel of the University of Copenhagen, found that donkeys around 5,000 years ago were in an early phase of domestication. They looked like wild animals but displayed joint wear that showed that they were used as domestic animals.
"Genetic research has suggested African origins for the donkey," said Marshall. "But coming up with an exact time and location for domestication is difficult because signs of early domestication can be hard to see. Our findings show that traces of human management can indicate domestication before skeletal or even genetic changes."
Domestication of the donkey from the African wild ass was a pivotal point in human history. It transformed ancient transport systems in Africa and Asia and the organization of early cities and pastoral societies.
The research team examined the 5,000-year-old Abydos skeletons along with 53 modern donkey and African wild ass skeletons. Analysis showed that the Abydos metacarpals were similar in overall proportions to those of wild ass, but individual measurements varied. Mid-shaft breadths resembled wild ass, but mid-shaft depths and distal breadths were intermediate between wild ass and domestic donkey.
Despite this, all the Abydos skeletons exhibited a range of wear and other pathologies on their bones consistent with load carrying. Morphological similarities to wild ass show that despite their use as beasts of burden, donkeys were still undergoing considerable phenotypic change during the early dynastic period in Egypt. This pattern is consistent with recent studies of other domestic animals that suggest that the process of domestication is slower and more complicated than had been previously thought.
The previously unpublished research was presented in "Domestication of the Donkey: New Data on Timing, Process and Indicators" in the March 10 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Adapted from materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
I cannot vouch for the donkey but the armadillo has come a long way with respect to domestication...at least in this household.
Indeed, Donkeys are such asses :)
Beasts of burden found nestled in graves dating back 5,000 years
Ten donkey skeletons were discovered within mud-brick tombs linked to an Egyptian pharaoh.
Paleoscientists discovered the skeletons of 10 donkeys nestled in three mud graves dating back 5,000 years ago when Egypt was just forming a state.
The donkey skeletons were discovered in 2003 lying on their sides in graves at a burial complex of one of the first pharaohs at Abydos, Egypt, which is about 300 miles south of Cairo.
"There have been very few funerary complexes of the first pharaohs ever found," said Fiona Marshall, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, "and nobody expected that in some of the highest status graves there would be donkeys; you normally have high courtiers or nobles."
The excavators, who expected to at least find human remains and likely those of noble descent, got a surprise when they found grave areas full of donkeys. But only recently did scientists study the bones in detail to reveal the true significance of the discovery: The skeletons represent the first clear evidence of the domestication of the wild ass.
The new findings are reported online in the March 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A donkey is a member of the Equidae family, which includes horses, zebras and African wild asses, which are the ancestors of domesticated donkeys. (A mule is the offspring of a male donkey, commonly called a jack ass, and a female horse, called a mare.)
Genetic studies and other research point to an African origin for donkeys about 6,000 years ago. The exact timing and location of the changeover from a wild meat source to a docile human helper have been tricky to pinpoint, however.
For one, donkey skeletons from thousands of years ago are rare. In addition, researchers say its difficult to see changes that would distinguish wild from domesticated. Some past research of isolated donkey bones has relied on size as a marker of domestication. Smaller size was presumed to be associated with the crowded, hardworking conditions of domesticated versions compared with the free-foraging wild asses.
The date of burial is also a murky marker.
"Egyptian nobility hunted African wild ass long after donkeys were domesticated, so both occur on Dynastic Egyptian sites," Marshall and her colleagues write.
In the new study, whole skeletons allowed researchers to look at the bones in context to paint a picture of what the animals were up to so long ago.
Marshall and her colleagues compared the bones of the Abydos skeletons with 53 modern donkey and African wild ass skeletons. The results suggested the Abydos donkeys would have looked similar to the Somali wild ass, a subspecies of African wild ass that are still alive today. That would mean the Abydos donkey would have stood at four feet at the shoulder, weighing about 600 pounds. For comparison, a zebra is about the same shoulder height and can weigh up to about 900 pounds.
However, the wear and tear of joints and other boney characteristics indicated the animals carried heavy loads like modern-day donkeys. Every load-bearing joint of the donkeys showed signs of abrasion, suggesting so much wear and tear that the joints' protective tissue the cartilage had worn away. The researchers noted arthritis of the vertebra bones just behind the shoulders, where loads are typically placed.
While they werent younguns, the donkeys were not old enough to justify the bone damage, with the donkeys estimated ages somewhere between 8 and 13 years when they perished.
The donkeys as beasts of burden would have represented the earliest use of animals (other than humans) to carry humans and their goods.
This is the first evidence for donkeys carrying loads, which is important because they were the first transport animal, Marshall told LiveScience, absolutely the first loads off humans' backs to create land transport routes, the earliest trade routes between Egyptians and Sumerians and so on.
The importance of the donkey haulers is supported by the skeletons burial location. The researchers speculate the donkeys were associated with the tomb of either King Narmer or King Aha. King Narmer is known for unifying Upper and Lower Egypt and creating the worlds first nation-state.
It certainly suggests they were of very great importance to the pharaoh and the early Egyptian state, Marshall said. It's very likely that having land-based transport of this kind actually helped to integrate the state, which was the world's first and earliest nation-state.
Donkey’s are like big...BIG dogs in that they are playful, loyal, and loving animals. They are herd animals and are best in pairs. They love to buddy up.
Now sitting in place without moving for a while doesn't bother me at all! Isn't this a great country?
What the heck is a paleoscientist? Is a paleoscientist to a scientist as a paleoconservative is to a conservative? Or is a pale-o-scientist a honkey donkey excavator?
I never have been able to tame wild ass.
Well, I for one an really glad that my hard earned tax dollars go to discovering such important data. Maybe next they’ll discover that cats are different than dogs. Oh wait. They already used tax dollars for that. Never mind.(/sarc)
My buddy and I were going to get a monkey and do the organ grinder thing for local outdoor events and festivals. We figured we could make some bucks.
When we saw how expensive the organ was we had second thoughts.
Then we researched how to train the monkey we couldn’t deal with the brutality involved in getting the monkey to comply.
You have to break the mokeys will by constraining him for a few days by binding him up. When he’s broken down he’ll be easier to train.
Think of that next time someone tells you that prostitution is a victimless crime.
Oh. We’re talking about donkeys, not monkeys.
You have a domestic armadillo??
Stay!.. Stay!.. Good boy! That's a good armadillo!
Sooooo, it hadn’t been posted, eh? :’) Equus sworn it hadn’t.
Careful where you give that jump command.
General Sherman tamed a few in Georgia, a hundred-some years ago.
I wonder what his secret was?
I suppose you could train a donkey to collect some coin and find an old, use Hammond organ somewhere. Now that would be an act I'd watch.
Pheeew! Whata a relief! I can sleep well now.
Glad you mentioned that. I was thinking of a bumper sticker for this year's campaign (if Baraq and the Nominatrix got on the same nightmare ticket):
BUY ONE SURRENDER MONKEY, GET ONE FREE
However, I realized I'd probably go to prison for that one, given the present atmosphere of political sensitivity. Soooo, I thought why not:
BUY ONE SURRENDER DONKEY, GET ONE FREE
The finishing touch would be the red-circle-slash logo over the 'D' on 'donkey'. Think that might be a bumper sticker that would stick?
I love the humor that exists within FR, but wonder sometimes about it's wholesale application.
Thanks Blam, for an interesting and constructive post.
It's another wild ass topic. Thanks Blam. Nice to see a link to that other one as well (ahem). ;')
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Maybe they were feral, rather than wild per se. :’)
What you said, me too.
Maybe the guy who owned all the donkeys didn’t want his family to have them after he passed on...
Much like a rich guy who gives away all his wealth when he dies to keep it out of the hands of his spoiled, adult children.