Extending the Domestication of Livestock by 1,000 Years - August, 2008

Extending The Domestication Of Sheep & Goats In Mediterranean By 1,000 Years

A representation of the time at which these animals were domesticated

The past decade has witnessed a quantum leap in our understanding of the origins, diffusion, and impact of early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin. In large measure these advances are attributable to new methods for documenting domestication in plants and animals. The initial steps toward plant and animal domestication in the Eastern Mediterranean can now be pushed back to the 12th millennium cal B.P. Evidence for herd management and crop cultivation appears at least 1,000 years earlier than the morphological changes traditionally used to document domestication. Different species seem to have been domesticated in different parts of the Fertile Crescent, with genetic analyses detecting multiple domestic lineages for each species. Recent evidence suggests that the expansion of domesticates and agricultural economies across the Mediterranean was accomplished by several waves of seafaring colonists who established coastal farming enclaves around the Mediterranean Basin. This process also involved the adoption of domesticates and domestic technologies by indigenous populations and the local domestication of some endemic species. Human environmental impacts are seen in the complete replacement of endemic island faunas by imported mainland fauna and in today's anthropogenic, but threatened, Mediterranean landscapes where sustainable agricultural practices have helped maintain high biodiversity since the Neolithic.

Melinda Zeder
Last week, I shared with you all some research on the Neolithic/agricultural revolution in Iran and Turkey, specifically on barley and cattle domestication. Since then, PNAS has published a related paper, “Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, diffusion, and impact,” by Melinda Zeder. Zeder believes that the domestication of sheep and goat happened 1,000 years earlier than previously assumed. The bases this hypothesis on the observation that the previous, younger date is based upon the ‘culling of female goats and sheep,’ who are smaller, more gracile, and manageable. But, according to her, people were herding these animals much earlier. In fact, in places like Cyprus, native species like the pygmy elephants and pygmy hippopotamuses were replaced by introduced, domesticated species such as the sheep, goat, cattle, and pig by 10,500 years ago. Zeder has generated two useful graphs to document the the regions and dates where the four domesticated species were first pastoralized. The evidence from last week’s paper on the milk jugs in northwestern Turkey isn’t included, instead a Zeder marks a 10,000 year old mark for the domestication of cattle in northern Iraq and Syria.

Agricultural Expansion in Neolithic Mediterreanean


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