6 March 2009

Domestication: a timeline

Cosmos Magazine
We built our modern civilisation on the backs of a supporting cast of plants, animals and microbes.

Now modern genetic and archaeological methods are giving us a clearer picture than ever before of where and when these mutually beneficial partnerships were born.

15,000 to 11,000 BC:Dogs domesticated as Ice Age glaciers retreat. Many believe dogs essentially domesticated themselves by scavenging near human camps. Humans then bred them to bark in warning and for smaller puppyish muzzles, which are indicative of reduced aggression compared to wolves.

10,000 to 8000 BC:Goats domesticated in Iran and neighbouring countries. Although dogs are eaten in some cultures and probably always were, goats were the first true domestic food animals. Wool hides had probably been used long before, by hunters.

9,000 to 8000 BC:Wheat domesticated in the Karacadag Mountains of Southeast Turkey, and soon thereafter in other parts of the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent. Other important crops, from barley to figs, emerged in the same area within a couple of thousand years, spurring the growth of farming villages, empires, and civilisation as we know it.

7,000 BC:Maize domesticated in the Americas, probably in Mexico. Descended from a plant called teosinte, it originally produced cobs only a few centimetres long.

6,500 BC:Cattle domesticated along the Middle East’s Euphrates River, as well as in India and Africa. Cattle are descended from aurochs, which are believed to have survived in Poland until the early 1600s. Better than any other farm animal, they provided meat, milk, and drafting power all in one beast. But their versatility came with a formidable pair of horns.

6,000 BC:Pigs domesticated in China and the Middle East. Because they cannot be driven as easily as cattle or sheep, they were probably not domesticated until people settled into permanent villages. As farming civilisations expanded, people may have tamed wild boars from new regions rather than trying to bring hogs from their old abodes.

5,500 BC:Horses domesticated, somewhere on the Eurasian steppes.

2,000 BC:Cats were certainly domesticated in Egypt by this point, though evidence from Cyprus suggests cats and humans were living closely together as early as 8,000 BC. Cats provided the service of hunting rodents that would otherwise infest food stores.


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