Domestication and Home

First, an apology.  I apologize for the lateness of my blog post.  I mistakenly thought that this week we were working on our projects and had a break from blogging.  I’m glad I found this to be untrue in time to write a blog post at all, but I apologize for being late with it.

That being said, I found the Brantz reading to be incredibly interesting.  First off was the bit of language.  Domestication comes from the Latin word for home, “domus.”  Having never made that particular connection, I found this to be interesting and slightly problematic.  Domestication is the human desire to turn wild animals into animals that we could keep in our homes.  Francis Galton thought that early domestication came from the human desire to keep pets.  This was interesting to me because pets, domesticates we actually do keep in our homes, are very different from other domesticates.  As Brantz points out, we do not eat them or turn them into products, and even go so far as to turn them into individuals by giving them names and such.

So, my question becomes, why does the word domestication come from the word for “home” when most domesticates are not kept in our homes?  It seems to me that other readings have argued successfully that early humans did not domesticate animals to keep them as pets, but for food.  Why then is the word used for the process so tied to the idea of the home?  Could it be just a general idea of living with humans in general?  Most dictionaries I looked in for the definition of “domestication” simply offer two definitions.  One is to make something suitable for the home and the other is to make an animal or plant accustomed to a human environment or be useful to humans.  This proved to be unsatisfying because it did not really answer my question.  This connection with the home seems to important to me.

I thought maybe the word “domestication” originated in the 18th or 19th century and was somehow tied to the emerging bourgeois values that Brantz talked about.  Everything I could find, however, pointed to the word domestication being used before that in the 17th century, which lessens the likelihood of this possibility and left me still wondering.  I’m tempted to become a linguist to figure this out.

The rest of Brantz’s work was interesting as well, I was intrigued by the place of pets in society as a moral force because it is held over to today.  It is still common to get a dog or cat to teach a kid responsibility.  We may have come off the rigid morality of Victorian England, but apparently we still teach responsibility the same way.

Like a few others, I was also pleasantly surprised by the readability of Darwin.  I expected him to be stuffy and inaccessible, but that is of course not the case.  In the Introduction we read, Darwin talked about domestication and how humans can affect it but are ultimately still unable to fully control nature.  The idea of control and power seems so central to domestication, but how much control do humans really have in the process.  I’m curious to see what everyone else thinks about this.

How things came to be, Donkeys, Language, and the Wheel for Transportation

I find the bestiality paradigm almost shocking assumed Bullet’s normality of it. Seriously, given our perception and relationship throughout time, donkeys?! I agree with Camilla, apparently bestiality was not frowned upon back then like it is today. Sure, sexual preferences are (for most) an intimate topic. I can reasonably see a present-day discussion of sexual preferences to include and not be ridiculed for what Bulliet explained as a rise of sexual fantasies between humans. Perhaps that would be what it might feel like to discuss bestiality back then: private but normal. Today, if an intimate sexual preference discussion included bestiality, it would be not so easily received (and not viewed as “natural”).

The discussion of the merging of the words “ass,” a donkey and, “arse,” a person’s bum that was too vulgar to use in public, made me realize that perhaps the entire origin of our language would provide clues about who we were and what our relationships were like throughout history. It was only in America that the confusion of the world surfaced (in Brittan “arse” is still the only vulgar word).Maybe this confusion of the words in America points to our increasing disconnect to our deep evolutionary history. Is it possible that this lack of word origin understanding (among other factors) positioned us to develop a post-domestic society (categories again!) of industrial agriculture? This fits nicely with the “dumb-ass” discussion question Camilla posted.

I found The Horse, the Wheel, and Language readings intriguing. The horse chapter had more horse-specific data and measurements than I have ever really cared to understand. The results can be appreciated nevertheless. For example, bit wear (as so defined in the reading) indicates that a horse has been ridden or driven. It was interesting to note that large horse herds would have been difficult to keep without riding them. I think back to our discussions of animal predispositions allowing them to form bonds with humans, where there is a horse (or a dog or a dolphin, etc) there is a human who will try to ride it.

The invention of the wheel is monumental. I enjoyed the explanation of how it connected cultures across the land into one interacting system. It was the wheel for the carriage pulled by domesticates that created a new global consciousness; a transportation revolution! (Similarly, I think it is time for another revolution in transport that redefines our relationship with oil and fossil fuels but that’s another discussion entirely)

We’re taking about our heritage and a food system that began by innovation, geographic luck, and animal propensity.

Finally I enjoyed recognizing the inherent errors our system of historical, scientific, and other types of studies. It does not mean we should stop studying. It means we must be so adaptable and flexible to include the standard deviations, or error percentages of information in the dark or not accounted for. If you ask me, there’s something to the old fashioned beliefs that make sense like preserving your food the
old fashioned way”.

On Folktales

Vitebsky described two Eveny folktales in the reading.  Both had to do with how reindeer and humans came to have the relationship that they do.  In one, a woman lures reindeer closer and closer because they like the salt in her urine.  Eventually the woman is able to touch them and milk them, thus beginning centuries of human reindeer relationships.

The second folktale is more interesting to me.  In that one, humans help create reindeer by birthing them from trees.  The reindeer get older and have two calves.  Eventually the reindeer are attacked by wolves and the older reindeer cower in fear and call on the God Hovki for help.  The younger reindeer kill the wolves with their antlers and Hovki asks why the older reindeer could not do it themselves.  Their answer was that they had been born with human help and now needed human help to survive.  Hovki sent the older reindeer to live with humans the younger reindeer into the wild, never to mingle together again, thus explaining the difference between wild reindeer and domestic reindeer.

Folktales and folk practices are important because they serve as a link to a time for which few other records exist.  I’ve taken a class on Russian folktales and practices in general before and the light they can shed on early history and religious beliefs is interesting.  Very little is known about Slavic pagan belief is known, except for information that could be gleaned from folk tales and practices.  For example, a recurring character in Russian folklore in St. Elijah.  St. Elijah is a Christian figure, but the way he behaves has led scholars to believe that St. Elijah is a character from older Slavic myth, Perun the Thunder God, with a veneer of Christianity.  Scholars are able to learn a great deal about Perun and other pre-Christian Slavic beliefs based on folktales.

My point with that bit of unrelated knowledge is that the Eveny folktales might tell us something about how reindeer actually first came to be domesticated.  The two folktales in the introduction have a few elements in common that also line up with arguments that Bulliet made and with a point that we have talked about in class.

In the first folktale, domestication is based on a mutually beneficial relationship between reindeer and humans.  The reindeer wanted the salt the woman could give them and the woman wanted the reindeer milk.  This vision of domestication lines up with Bulliet’s idea that domestication was not a process that early humans discovered and mastered, but instead was more of an accident.  The woman in the folktale didn’t even know that the reindeer was useful until after it was comfortable around her.

The second folktale is similar.  The reindeer want to go with humans because humans can protect them from danger.  The humans can use the reindeer as pack animals and the hundred other things that reindeer are good for.  It is even more interesting because humans don’t really play any part in the domestication aspect of the folktale.  In class we have discussed the idea of animals “choosing” to become domesticated because it is useful for them.  The second folktale is interesting because the reindeer literally chose to go to the humans when Hovki asks them.

I don’t mean to say that these folktales should be taken as literal, just that the ideas presented in them may not be so farfetched.  The first one paints the picture of a mutually beneficial relationship that, I think, we have decided is a good basis for domestication.  The second describes the split between wild and domestic reindeer.  It doesn’t seem impossible to me that older reindeer would have been easier to domesticate, it seems fairly likely.  I think these folktales can give a lot of insight into the early relationship between humans and reindeer.

Feeling the Magic of Reindeer?

Never before had I thought to consider ancient or current civilizations who live(ed) in the quite large geographic regions home to reindeer. Maybe it’s something about the deep cold or seasonal changes seemingly different than my own. Nevertheless, I am astonished by the meanings of their traditions and the pervasiveness of the reindeer in the human cultures which thrived there and around the globe.

The reindeer process of domestication at the beginning seems to be an impossible puzzle. How could no word from the language be able to encompass both domesticated and wild reindeer? How could there be no evidence of successfully domesticating reindeer in the present? The author presents two theories. (1) Domestication may have happened further south in conjunction with other animals or (2) could have occurred with the Tungus people living east of lake Baikal. The only other time I’ve heard of Lake Baikal was watching the movie, “The Way Back” with the characterization of Siberia and the area there as the only true prison. It was reindeer that allowed thousands of miles to be colonized. Does having a partner in nature help humans survive in that nature through unconscious increased trust?

In previous blog posts about milk I have been dismissing the idea that the domestication of animals could have been for other uses than food. What else is a more basic need than a reliable food supply as an argument for domestication emergence? No reindeer were kept on a large scale for eating until after 1600 but were domesticated 3,000 years ago.

The trip the author made to Sebyan pained an interesting picture of a different culture paradigm founded on the surrounding nature. It was not the mileage but the, “capriciousness of these mountains that made Sebyan so inaccessible.” Despite the harsh landscape, the village was made and life within it was rich and complex. By using the materials in the harsh landscape the people respected the harshness and could then happily exist within it. To what degree are our ideas changed when humans completely alter their landscapes to an unrecognizable human utility form? Or is it just a consequence of the landscape being too harsh to completely control? Can it be said that the reindeer is a unique domesticated animal because of its environment?

“The species wavers between timidity and curiosity, poised paradoxically either to flee or explore.”

To think possible that the stay in a remote Russian log-cabin village in the middle of the arctic tundra would feel like a metropolis is to rethink how our relationship with nature may dictate how we live our lives and how we form relationships with the animals in them.

It’s sadly logical to understand why Russian policies would have tried to prevent the perpetual migration of human settlements following reindeer since it was seen as a “backward” idea. Altering this fundamental relationship of responding to the environment though nomadism or migrating together in annual cycles is still a central problem to reindeer herders today.

A beginning section concluded beautifully in the hopes that his children one day may have reindeer of their own. This possibility so remote due to the structure of communist society but, was not too much for Vitebsky to make clear his feeling that human partnership with reindeer should be part of life. It began easier to understand why such culture, tradition and religion surrounded the reindeer.  The more I read the more I believed they were a little bit magical.

This photo I found here with the caption, “No child of the tundra Yukaghirs ever falls out of these saddles. Reindeer are entrusted even with cradles containing young babies.”

I could consider how the domestication of reindeer at first seems to be somewhat different than other animals due to the spiritual connection. Was this made possible by my own cultural heritage of magical reindeer of Christmas? Could it be true that other domesticated animals were understood at this deep spiritual level too? And, perhaps, has that has allowed for their successful domestication? If so, could it explain why we cannot achieve such a result (the domestication process) with a focus on genetic traits and evolutionary science void of human connection to the individual animal itself?

Perhaps we may never know.

For now all I can say is this spiritual connection and trust reminds me of Christmas nights spent as a child in the snowy Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Oh Bulliet

As I continue my readings on domestication, I admit that I had grossly underestimated its importance before taking this class.  I imagined the studying of domestication would simply involve discussing animals subject to its effect.  I never imagined the investigation of its entire cause and effect.  Now that I have been confronted with this challenge, I must admit that I have become obsessed with all it involves.  I appreciate the difficulty and controversies Bulliet must overcome in order to adequately address this topic.  I have come to learn that domestication is the cause for much of what is today, and there can be no definite definition or origin for something so encompassing.  As Bulliet delves deeper into this topic I find myself questioning the motives for his logic as well as conclusions he makes along the way.
I was really excited for this reading because it felt like Bulliet was actually heading towards a well-grounded conclusion at times.  His conclusion that the sequence of hunter to herder to famer was unlikely, was well received in my mind.  In my previous reading of this book I thought that Bulliet had made it clear that the domestication of flora and fauna were not as linked as some may think.  He cited civilizations that existed on the basis of just flora or just fauna, a view that seemed to contradict both mine and Diamond’s opinion.  Whether I misunderstood Bulliet’s stance on the relationship between the domestication of plants and animals, his conclusion that animal domestication must have followed agriculture improvement restored my confidence in him.  Bulliet continues to gain my respect when he refutes Galton’s claim that all large animals had been tested for domestication by our ancestors.  As cited in the book, domestication is able to be achieved even now in species like foxes and reindeer.  This is where I am glad Bulliet and Diamond have a difference in opinion.  Diamond seemed satisfied with the notion that only a set amount of animals could be domesticate while others could not.  I believe that some species are more ideal to succumb to domestication but I also believe it can be achieved on a larger scope than Diamond cares to admit, a view that I gathered Bulliet shares in too.
Regarding the question of why some animals respond better to the stress of domesticity, Bulliet compares adrenaline in tame and wild species.  This sparked my immediate interest because it presented some of the first scientific evidence behind why some animals are easier to manage than others.  I also believe that these results support my stance that many if not all animals can eventually be domesticated.  Using this science it seems possible to me that humans can target things like lower adrenaline and lower production of certain chemicals in species that seem particularly difficult to domesticate.  It makes sense to me that just because a certain species does not have lowered adrenaline, does not mean that this is not achievable.  Some unseen variable that humans are in charge of must be able to be tweaked to achieve this affect.
As my reading continued I agreed with some other substantial claims that Bulliet made such as the voluntary cohabitation of species and the tameness of some species arising from the lack of predators.  What I disagree with is the lack of credit Bulliet gives to humans regarding domestication.  His canary example meant to illustrate the dumb luck and obliviousness of humans to domestication was ridiculous to me.  He made the point that no other birds were domesticated despite the popularity of canaries.   According to him this lack of attempt shows that we did not have the means or will to accomplish domestication as we wanted it.   My point is why would a business seeking man attempt to domesticate something that is close to a current fad but not the exact thing?  Canaries were what people wanted, so canaries were what people domesticated.
My last qualm comes from what I see as a cop out of Bulliet.  His dismissal of meat, milk and power as a reason for domestication seemed unlikely at first but ultimately had me convinced.  I was disappointed that he believed animal sacrifice was the reason behind undertaking the difficulties of domestication.  It being rooted in religion makes sense because as we travel deeper into human motives and history, religion usually presents a starting point.  I still do not know if I’m completely convinced but I do know that this answer raises more questions than a true answer would.

Creating questions

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.

“Taming” Animals, or Dominating Them?

Are humans above nature?

Bulliet begins the second part of his book by talking about the taming of wild animals as part of the domestication process. This entire chapter dealt with keeping the captured/breeding population seperate from the wild and feral animals of the wilderness. He begins with his rats and foxes example, where after decades of testing and “natural selection” -I say that sarcastically, as the testing and breeding of certain selected rats was very unnatural in itself- led to the creation of the “white lab rat” as people attempted to breed the albinos together, and successfully had. He also talks about how through so many generations of breeding and being held in captivity, this tameness gene kept elevating and more and more with each offspring. However, the experimenter was actually selecting the tamest of all the offspring, and thus practically determined the future generations of the captive foxes.

So, to what extent is the domestication of animals deemed useful? Bulliet would argue that people think “domestic animal means ‘useful animal.’” He separates usage of animals into primary & secondary uses: primary being meat , and secondary meaning the extras involved in the domestication of the animal. These could range anywhere from wool from sheep, to riding of horses and camels, to even the plowing of fields. The primary use, however is always meat, as it is a driving force for humans to hunt, herd, and “hamburgize,”(see what I did there?) for their own survival.

Now the question at hand is, when did the sacrificing of animals come about? There has always been a huge request for animal sacrifice throughout all religions and all races of the world. A more personal example, when attending a family gathering dinner, my cousin’s chickens were raised and killed for the meal, and they told me before the killing of the chickens, they would say a prayer to thank God for the wonderful creatures that he put on his earth. Now, I’m not very religious, but that right there almost sounds like sacrifice itself! Bulliet would go on to say that domestication could have been for the purpose of sacrifice, because in case of a sacrificial event, there would ALWAYS be an animal on hand. Versus hoping the hunter of the group found game, they could always rely on the domesticates.

I’ve described three scenarios here, in which it seems like humans have distinguished themselves above nature: taming and selective breeding by humans, claiming animals as being useful for humans, and claiming animals lives in human sacrificial usage. Are we starting to exploit the benefits of domesticated animals? Are we dominating their lives in an unfair manor? Ingold would argue that, saying that humans, “have risen above, and have sought to bring under control, a world of nature that includes their own animality.” To what reason do we assume the right to slaughter animals for our own religious pleasing? Who deemed animal meat as a primary use for humans? Why do we, as humans, think we can genetically change a species to suit our quest for knowledge?

I am starting to increasingly understand the world through a vegetarian’s eyes.

H, H and H

Hunters, Herders and Hamburgers takes its readers on an in depth investigation of the causes and reasons of domestication.  The dissection of domestication is proven difficult in this book as evidenced by the author addressing both sides of many debates on this topic as plausible.  In many instances regarding the classification and causes of domestication, Bulliet admits that some things cannot be known for certain.  After reading “Evolutionary History” I am not surprised by Bulliet’s struggles in defining such an encompassing topic.  I was impressed with his ability to divide the life span of domestication into separate stages, if not only for the convenience of organizing his thoughts.  In doing this he presented an interesting comparison on domesticity and post domesticity.
The longevity of sex and blood in our society while many other vices such as drugs and crime have abated, can be explained by the post domestic culture according to Bulliet.  As society has advanced the consumer has become shielded to the horrors of the harvesting of meat.  In post domestic society the animals we eat are no more than meat in a container.  Only the domestic culture (farmers and butchers) are troubled with the killing of animals.  Post domestic society has also been pacified in regards to experiencing and witnessing sex.  On a farm one can witness many acts of sex and even participate in sexual acts with animals.  Since post domestic society has been robbed of this firsthand experience of blood and sex, fantasy has taken its place.   I have problems with this stance as it seems to be a bit of a stretch.  I do not believe that violence against animals in order to gather meat is enough of a stimulant to completely separate domestic and post domestic culture.  I see little advantage on the battlefield of someone who has killed chickens over someone who has not.  Bulliet tries to make a point that the violence in domestic life can toughen a man for battle.  But can you truly say the killing of an livestock animal in order to feed a population prepares a man to kill another free willed human being whom is loved by others?   I do not deny the presence of blood in our society but I do not view it as an answer to the violence lost from the domestic lifestyle.  Bulliet claims that fantasy blood has to keep increasing in order to make up for the lack of real violence.  This is to say that real violence would be enough for a society who experiences it.  With the recent gun debate addressing fantasy violence in movies as a reason for recent acts of horror, I find it hard to believe fewer horrors would occur in a society completely based on real violence.   Fantasy violence also has it limits, a point at which it is so extreme that it loses credibility.
I found the differences in the thought towards animals in domestic and post domestic society very interesting.  The changes in film and cartoons like King Kong clearly show a change in attitudes towards animals.  Compassion from those who are distant from the killing and butchering of animals is growing.  If this compassion were absent as we evolved and demand grew, everything around us would become extinct.  The lion atop his food chain does not need question the killing of an endangered species.  As humans, we are atop every food chain and it is our responsibility to watch over the animals below us.  The imposition of our will upon animals is a heavily debated topic.  Things become even more muddled when if you consider humans as just another animal.  Are we bounding and taking advantage of our brothers and sisters?  Or are we truly meant to be dominant.  Regarding humans it is easy to believe that our whole is more than a sum of our parts.  Is the same true of animals?  From a personal standpoint and as exemplified by society it is clear that we think ourselves separate.  It is hard to decide whether or not civilized life is a blessing or a curse.  Are the benefits of one species worth the domination of all others?  In my opinion it seems that one species would always end up dominating.  I have read articles in the past that claim if it weren’t for the destruction of the dinosaurs, velociraptors would have ruled as humans due.  Survival of the fittest supports this.  The discussion of why were are the fittest and how we became the fittest rose more question than answers for me in this reading.  Are speech and society and product of evolution, or did we evolve more rapidly because of it.  As stated it can be proven that humans already hunted out of their class before speech was prevalent.
One last thing I found interesting about this reading was the relationship of domestication of animals and plants.  The video we watched previously clearly discussed the link between domestication of animals and plants.  Bulliet, however, sees less of a relationship and sites peoples that thrived on just the domestication of animals or just the domestication of plants.  I would agree more with this statement because it proves that just the act of domestication was significant and didn’t require the domestication of plants and animals to cause change.