chapter  1
18 Pages

Working donkeys then and now

Approaches and contexts
WithJill Goulder

This chapter provides a backdrop for the main arguments of this book and for its interdisciplinary approach to the little-addressed issue of the day-to-day practicalities of working-animal use in antiquity. Encompassing a reassessment of Sherratt’s 1981 Secondary Products model, I construct in this book an extended case study of the early systematic use of working donkeys and cattle in Mesopotamia in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, though with additional relevance to early use of working animals elsewhere in the Ancient Near East and Europe. The approach used is a close qualitative analysis of the large body of published official and NGO development studies of modern working-animal use, particularly in regions of sub-Saharan Africa where working donkeys and cattle are recent adoptions and mechanisation is minimal. These data, little-used as yet in archaeology, shed light on the daily activities and occupations relating to working-animal adoption and management: breeding and supply, feeding, training and husbandry. While archaeology will always have need of large-scale anthropological models, the argument is set out here for a parallel ethological approach, envisaging the 4th and 3rd millennia BC in Mesopotamia from a viewpoint explicitly acknowledging the major presence of working animals and their day-to-day impact on human activity and on the consequent archaeological record.