Historical Origins of Domestic Animals

The role of animals as companions to man probably began with domestication of the dog from wolflike ancestors some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.[1] A docile wolf pup, orphaned when its mother was killed, may have been carried back to camp by a human hunter.[2] If it wasn't eaten, and became habituated to its adoptive family, it possibly survived by scavenging for food within the settlement. Over generations, this close association with people, and increasing evidence of tameability and trainability, produced a mutually beneficial relationship.1-3-1 The primitive dog was provided food and shelter, and its master acquired a hunting companion that could track and capture game. Further, the evolution of behavioral postures, such as tail-wagging and soliciting play, nurtured the indulgences that so closely link modern man and his dog.

The domestication of other animals, such as cattle, sheep, and goats, soon followed. Although they provided hides, wool, and hair for clothing, meat and milk for food, and draft power, they didn't provide the companionship, special pride of ownership, and societal dominance engendered by the horse. Horse domestication is believed to have begun in Scythia (in the area of present-day Ukraine), somewhat before 3500 b.c. By 670 b.c., mounted horsemen on the steppes of Eurasia were imposing figures, eight feet tall and seemingly at one with their steeds. The Scythian cavalry, equipped with swords, lances, or bows and arrows, readily vanquished foes that were afoot, and dominated great tracts of land for centuries.[4] Their horses were reminiscent of Arabians but were somewhat smaller. The first deliberate horse breeding is believed to have started in Persia, in the 1st millennium b.c., and resulted in the development of both light and heavy breeds.[5]

Cats, too, were domesticated several thousand years ago perhaps around 2000 1000 b.c. and were kept in temples in ancient Egypt as religious symbols. They were ultimately deified, and hundreds of mummified cats have been found in Egyptian tombs.[6] A cat buried with a human about 9,500 years ago has been found recently in Cyprus, demonstrating an even earlier relationship with man.[7] Domestication generally presumes that breeding takes place under human control. This is true for some domestic cats, but as noted by Mason,[8] ''the majority make their own arrangements.'' As a consequence, distinctions that identify particular breeds tend to disappear in the feral population.

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