chapter  3
14 Pages

Donkeys versus cattle

WithJill Goulder

Insufficient attention has been paid by Ancient Near Eastern archaeologists to the differing behavioural and physical characteristics, capabilities and potential of donkeys and cattle as working animals, and to the implications for their use for work in Mesopotamia and elsewhere. This chapter provides a practical foundation for revised understanding of their role and of the social and economic consequences of their systematic adoption, as well as outlining examples of cultural and environmental obstacles to their use. Donkeys are desert animals which socialise in small, shifting groups; they are intelligent and assess situations, reacting with stoicism but eventually with attack rather than flight in the face of threats. In domestication they are noted for their quick learning and ability to carry out tasks with little or no supervision, demonstrated worldwide as able to replace humans in a range of transport and other work. They are low-maintenance and able to forage for themselves, favouring rough browse and with low water requirements. In contrast, working oxen require rich grazing and ample water, with herding and time during the working day for rumination.