The Biology Book: From the Origin of Life to Epigenetics, 250 Milestones in the History of Biology (2015)

Domestication of Animals

c. 10,000 BCE

Domesticated animals were initially developed from species that were social in the wild and could breed in captivity, thus allowing genetic modifications to increase those traits that are advantageous to humans. Depending upon the species, such desirable traits might include: being docile and easy to control; having the ability to produce more meat, wool, or fur; and suitability for traction, transportation, pest control, assistance, companionship, or as a form of currency.

The most familiar domesticated animal, the dog (Canis lupus familiaris), is a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupis), with the oldest fossil remains showing a split in their lineage some 35,000 years ago. Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated with the earliest evidence being a jawbone found in a cave in Iraq and dating back some 12,000 years. Images on Egyptian paintings, Assyrian sculpture, and Roman mosaics show that even in ancient times, domestic dogs were of many sizes and shapes. The first dogs were domesticated by hunter-gatherers but their job description has since been expanded beyond hunting to include herding, protection, pulling loads, aiding police and the military, assisting handicapped individuals, serving as human food, and providing loyal companionship. The American Kennel Club now lists 175 breeds, with most only several hundred years old.

Around 10,000 years ago, sheep and goats were domesticated in southwest Asia. While alive, they served as a source of manure for crop fertilization and, when dead, as a regular supply of food, leather, and wool. Researchers have long been puzzled about the origins and evolution of the domestic horse (Equus ferus caballus), whose wild ancestor first appeared 160,000 years ago and is now extinct. Based on archeological and genetic evidence, including bit wear on horse teeth that were found at sites associated with the ancient Botai culture, in 2012 researchers concluded that their domestication dates back some 6,000 years in the western Eurasian Steppe (Kazakhstan). As they were domesticated, these early horses were regularly bred with wild horses to provide meat and skin and later to play an essential role in war, transportation, and sport.

SEE ALSO: Agriculture (c. 10,000 BCE), Artificial Selection (Selective Breeding) (1760), Fossil Record and Evolution (1836), Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection (1859).

Dogs, which have all evolved from the gray wolf, were the first domesticated animals and have been the working partner and loyal companion of humans for some 12,000 years. They are now commonly functionally categorized as companion, guarding, hunting, herding, and working dogs.