Anthonys’ and Bulliets’ discussions of horses and donkeys paths to domestication really help to show the drastically different ways that animals come to be domesticated. Before this class, I viewed the domestication of animals as a sort of set in stone process that all animals followed to lose their wild instincts and aid humans, but throughout our readings it has become very evident that every animal has its own unique journey. It is truly astounding how some animals have worked their way into our lives as are the cases with both the horse and the donkey. For the horse it seems that it was simple as favorable winter eating habits while for the donkey it boils down to being well endowed. Such simple behaviors and attributes have led to societies that revolve around these animals in all aspects of their lives. It is hard to imagine how much history would be changed if these beasts of burden hadn’t pawed through the ice to get a drink of water on a cold winter day.
Even more relevant to me were all of the different methods that anthropologists make use of to obtain all the data we have on these domestication processes. The creativity they use to come up with answers is phenomenal. I pride them in continuing to press on with new methods and discoveries when they well know that many of the questions they are asking will never have definitive answers. No matter how much we look at the evidence of early domestication, short of time travel, we can never be certain exactly what happened; yet day in and day out these individuals head in to work and continue to try. I hope that I can be that interested and driven in my future endeavors. This was a bit of a side note but I couldn’t help but mention it just to see if any one else found this interesting. Anyways back to the blog.
Both Anthony and Bulliet’s accounts drew me in, but I must admit that it was the story of the donkey that I found most interesting. I know we have all been very hard on Bulliet and Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers but I did find his ideas on the domestication of donkeys to be interesting. Bulliet’s discussion of the development of the donkey throughout its history with humans shed a light on a side of the donkey that I was not familiar with. I have always associated the donkey with simplicity and farm life but all of the religious and sexual ties were new to me. The donkeys ties with sex and religion do provide an answer to the reason for the donkeys initial domestication which I must admit always puzzled me. The donkey never really provided the things that other domesticated species did, such as milk or meat. Also, it didn’t seem to me that the donkey could have been domesticated solely for its use as a beast of burden, as other animals that have additional uses could have filled this role. However, sex is a powerful force throughout human history, and it does not take a stretch of the imagination to see how any animal with such strong sexual ties could slowly be incorporated into human society. Sadly, it seems that the donkey has been on a steady decline throughout its history, and regardless of the validity of Bulliets arguments, it is a very good example of how domesticated animals slowly become objectified as their purpose shifts from affective uses to material ones.
In addition, as I mentioned in my last post, I really like learning about word and phrase origins. Bulliet had some very unique explanations for the origins of many of the different terms that developed around the “ass”. It is really cool to learn where words that pop up without a second thought everyday really come from. The next time I hear someone called a dumb ass it will bring a much different picture to mind. Also the whole development of the “dunce cap” finally explained how such a seemingly strange punishment came to be. It was great to add a couple more things to my bag of useless fun facts!
I thought these readings opened up a lot of new discussion topics, as well as built up many of the past thoughts we have discussed. I look forward to reading everyone’s posts and hearing what you all have to say on Tuesday.
I know what you mean about the elusiveness of ever having certainty about “what happened” in the distant past. I thought about specializing in Ancient History or Classics, but shifted my focus forward considerably (to the 19th and 20th centuries), in part because I wanted more certainty about what I knew and what I could say about what had happened in the past. I assumed (as do many historians) that we have better records and more kinds of evidence for the recent past than for distant centuries, and in some ways that will always be true. But one of the (many) exciting things about the new convergence of history and the sciences is that we now have access to all kinds of information that previously was unavailable – even about things that seem beyond recovery, like the early moments of domestication. At the same time, eco-ethnographers such as Natasha Fijn (whose book, Living with Herds I have praised in class many times) have helped us see domestication as an ongoing social relationship embedded in cultural practices rather than as an biological moment that happened long ago. I think the research that Anthony developed marries the best of both worlds.
I read this post and immediately wanted to provide my thoughts on the apparent lack of evidence to reconstructing what took place in our deepest pasts of human history. There are a large amount of holes in our understanding of deep history (or our early history) but the important point is that I was not surprised. I think given the distance in time we are separated from the initial point of animal domestication allows us to reasonably expect a certain level of uncertainty.
This level of uncertainty can be better understood by the utilization of general categories. But perhaps the more relevant consideration is could there be a better way to understand the inherent uncertainties?