Why and when and how exactly did domestication happen?
This week’s readings were about creating questions more than they were about answering them. In reality, we do not know how exactly animals came to be domesticated.
In Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers (for initial discussion of this work, see last week’s post), Bulliet argues that domestication happened as much because of religion, ritual, and sacrifice as because of a need for food. I find this to be highly improbable.The arguments in our first set of readings, describing domestication as a mutualism that developed almost naturally seems liker to me. How could religion and sacrifice take precedence over food procurement? Central to Bulliet’s argument is the suggestion that human males would be reluctant to give up hunting in favor of domesticating animals. I do not think that this is a reasonable supposition. Domestication was as favorable for the species domesticed as it was for
Bulliet’s argument for the use of animals for riding and heavy work is much more probable. I have ridden horses since I was little, and it seems very natural to me that humans would use animals for transport and heavy work. However, I do wonder how the initial riding or plowing training was done. I have broke horses to ride. The first time you get on an individual domestic horse is a little frightening–you don’t know quite how it will react. How frightening must it have been to mount a horse for the first time ever? What circumstances allowed for this to happen?
I do know that it was common practice among cowboys in the 1800s to bring colts in off of the range (2 and 3 year old horses that had rarely been handled), knock them down and castrate them (without any kind of anesthetic) and then get them up and ride them. Though this was traumatic for the young horses, it made the breaking to ride process much easier, because the colts were thinking harder about how much their surgery cuts hurt than they were thinking about how weird it was to have a person riding them. I wonder if a similar process allowed people to ride horses for the first time? Could people have initially gotten on a sick or hurt animal that would have a harder time hurting them?
In general, the arguments presented in Clutton-Brock’s Animals as Domesticates seem much more probable and reasonable to my mind than are Bulliet’s. Clutton-Brock uses a much more even-handed tone than Bulliet does–she is not passing wisdom down from on high, as Bulliet sometimes sounds like he is, but rather is presenting information that she has gathered from a variety of sources. I was interested to learn (after I had finished the reading) that she is in the zoology department at her university–apparently I have a bias towards the writing of those in fields similar to my own.
In particular, Clutton-Brock’s description of humans as nurturers was very compelling and I would like to hear her expand upon it. Humans care for their own young and for the young of other humans. The common saying “it takes a village to raise a child” really expresses this–culturally, we are OK with other people raising our children and with raise children for others. A clear modern-day example of this is human’s tendency to take their children to daycare centers. We aren’t really raising our own children in today’s society.
However, to return to the original point: humans are nurturers and we (today, at least) nurture our animals like we nurture our own young. People refer to their dogs or cats as their “children” and to themselves as their dogs’ “moms” and “dads.” It isn’t too large a jump, then, to imagine that early humans were more likely to want to care for another species than, say, early chimpanzees. Ingold touches on this point also, but in a slightly different sort of way, saying that hunters knew and cared for their prey in much the same way that they knew and cared for their fellow humans. Could humans have domesticated animals because of some sort of nurturing instinct over which we have no control?
Overall, these readings do not explain how domestication happened. Rather, they show that we do not know how it happened, exactly, and we really never will know, because history has happened–we can’t go back and check to see how it happened. Ingold sums up my opinion on the matter very eloquently in the introduction to his essay From Trust to Domination:
“Only humans… construct narratives of this history. Such narratives range from what we might regard as myths of totemic origin to supposedly ‘scientific’ accounts of the origins of domestication. And however we might choose to distinguish between myth and science, if indeed the distinction can be made at all, they have in common that they tell us as much about how the narrators view their own humanity as they do about their attitudes and relations to non-human animals. “
Every story we tell about how domestication happened is just that–a story. We do not know how exactly domestication happened and we never will. We can only theorize. I am beginning to realize that history is a discipline with many more questions than answers. In the study of history, you get a finite amount of evidence from which you must draw conclusions and, depending on who you are, those conclusions can vary widely.