The Problem of Domestication
DOI link for The Problem of Domestication
The Problem of Domestication book
The idea of domestication, of domestic animals, is implicit in any discussion of pastoral nomadism, mobile pastoralism, etc., and when one looks at modern pastoral societies, or for that matter, modern domestic animals, the issue of what is domesticated and what is not may seem a trivial one. In fact, deﬁ ning domestication with respect to animals is a complex task; a wide range of behaviors, species and sub-species, processes, and deﬁ ning attributes come under the rubric “domestic”, including house pets, herded animals, draft and riding animals, fowl, guinea pigs, laboratory animals, carnivores raised for their fur, and even some kinds of “wild” rodents adapted to speciﬁ cally human environments (e.g., the common house mouse, Mus musculus domesticus). All are considered domesticated in one context or another. Patterns of exploitation and associated behaviors range from the development of close and mutual personal ties between animal and human, as in the use of hunting dogs, falconry (leaving aside the question of whether such raptors are indeed domesticated), and house pets, through penned stock-raising as in some types of fowl exploitation and dairying, and on to ranching, where contact between the animals and people may be much more limited. Human behaviors with respect to the animals vary from very active control of breeding, feeding, grooming, and protection to fundamentally laissez faire interaction limited to selective culling. Whether all of these should be considered domestication is a moot point since really, the deﬁ nition of domestic is contextual; animals are considered domestic if they contrast in some signiﬁ cant manner (signiﬁ cance is in the eye of the beholder) with their wild progenitors, or their wild cousins-are feral horses or feral cats domestic? The Asian elephant, Elephas maximus indicus , was “domesticated” as early as Harrapan times (Sukumar 2003:57-59), but whether these elephants were/are tamed or domestic is very much a question of how one
deﬁ nes domestication, and ties into the particular research questions being addressed. The contrast between wild and domestic may be genetic, or may be a function of human control, not yet (and maybe never to be) reﬂ ected in the genetics. Given the propensity to augment herds with wild animals, as for example practiced by the northern reindeer herders (e.g., Ingold 1980:95; Wallerström 2000), and most especially likely to be evident in the early stages of the domestication process of all prehistoric herd animals, the genetic changes we would expect given human control might be indeﬁ nitely postponed. In other cases, as for example the dromedary camel ( Camelus dromedarius ), wild progenitors no longer exist so that genetic comparison is not even possible (and the fossils do not exhibit morphological changes which might allow distinction, although DNA work has not yet been conducted). Furthermore, some types of genetic change which have been assumed to be the result of domestication processes, such as that seen in very early genetic changes in wolves (e.g., Wayne and Ostrander 1999), may be the result of the construction of specialized adaptive niches, the consequence of human presence, but not necessarily human control or even interference (also as above with respect to the domestic mouse).