Top 10 Domesticated Animals and Their Origins
Agriculture and the domestication of animals helped spur the human race from hunter gatherers to self sufficient land settlers. Looking through the history books, we sought to find the most beneficial animals humans have domesticated through time and the resources they provided. From the insect that generated a trade commodity to mans best friend, here are our top picks for animals domesticated by humans.
Also referred to as canines, the domestic dog, the gray wolf, and the extinct Taymyr wolf diverged at around the same time of approximately 35,000 years ago. This implies that the earliest dogs arose in the time that humans were still hunter gatherers and not agriculturists. When and where dogs were first domesticated has vexed geneticists for the past 20 years and archaeologists for many decades longer. Identifying the earliest dogs is difficult because the key morphological character that are used by zooarchaeologists to differentiate domestic dogs from their wild wolf ancestors were not fixed during the initial phases of the domestication process. Regardless, dogs top our list due to the many abilities that they offer. The old adage of "man's best friend" deserves its meaning, but other than companionship, dogs are natural hunters, great trackers, and protectors.
Cattle, or cows, are raised as livestock for meat, milk and other dairy products and as draft animals. Other products include leather and dung for manure or fuel. Cattle have been domesticated since the early Neolithic period, approximately 10,500 years ago from wild aurochs. There are two major places of domestication, one in the Middle East and Europe that gave us the taurine line and the second in the Indian subcontinent which resulted in the indicine line. As early as 9000 B.C., both grain and cattle were used as money or as barter, giving the seller the ability to set a fixed price. According to an estimate in 2003, there are approximately 1.3 billion cattle in the world, and in 2009, cattle became the first livestock animal to have a fully mapped genome.
Perhaps the most majestic of all domesticated animals, horses appear in Paleolithic cave art as early as 30,000 B.C., but these wild horses were probably hunted for meat. How and when wild horses were domesticated is disputed, but the clearest evidence of early use was as a means of transport due to chariot burials dated to 2000 B.C. However, an increasing amount of evidence supports the hypothesis that horses were domesticated in the Eurasian Steppes approximately 3500 B.C. Regardless of the specific era of domestication, the use of horses spread rapidly across Eurasia for transportation, agricultural work, and warfare. Many populations of feral horses exist throughout the world, but are descended from domesticated animals, giving researchers a glimpse at how their prehistoric ancestors may have lived.
One of the most common and widespread domestic animals, with a population of more than 19 billion in 2011, Gallus domesticus, or the common Chicken, is a domesticated fowl used primarily as a source of food, both for their meat and eggs. Derived from the wild red junglefowl approximately 10,500 years ago, the bird still runs wild in most of southeast Asia. Recent research suggests however that here may be multiple origins of domestication in distinct areas of South and Southeast Asia, including North and South China, Thailand, Burma, and India. Behaviorally, domesticated chickens are less active, have fewer social interactions, are less aggressive to predators, and are less likely to go looking for foreign food sources than their wild ancestors. They also have increased adult body weight, simplified plumage, their egg production starts earlier and more frequently, and produce larger eggs.
The domestic pig, scientifically named Sus domesticus, is also referred to as swine or hogs. Archaeological evidence suggests that pigs were domesticated from wild boar as early as 13,000 to 12,700 B.C. in the Near East's Tigris Basin. Remains of pigs have been dated to earlier than 11,400 B.C. in Cyprus. Research also shows a separate domestication in China, which took place about 8000 years ago. The adaptable nature and omnivorous diet of the wild boar allowed early humans to domesticate it readily. Pigs were mostly used for food, but early civilization also used pig's hide for shields, bones for tools and weapons, and bristles for brushes. Domestic pigs have become feral again in many parts of the world, including New Zealand and Northern Queensland, and have caused substantial environmental damage.
Ovis aries, or Sheep were domesticated between 11,000 and 9000 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia from the wild mouflon. Sheep were among the first to be domesticated by mankind along with the goat and dog, with their wild relatives having several ideal characteristics such as lack of aggression, a manageable size, early sexual maturity, a social nature, and high reproduction rates. Today, Ovis aries is an entirely domesticated animal that is largely dependent on man for its health and survival, although feral sheep do exist, it is only in areas devoid of large predators and not on the scale of other feral domesticated species. While rearing of sheep for secondary products began in either southwest Asia or Western Europe, initially sheep were kept solely for meat, milk, and skins. Researchers believe that the development of warmer garments from sheep allowed man to traverse into colder climates.
Goats were among the first domesticated animals and were adapted from the wild version of Capra egregious. Beginning around 10,000 to 11,000 years ago, Neolithic farmers began keeping small herds of goats for their milk and meat, their dung for fuel, and hair, bone, skin, and sinew for clothing and tools. Archaeological data suggests that two distinct places may be where goats were first domesticated, the Euphrates river valley at Nevali Cori, Turkey, and the Zagros Mountains of Iran at Ganj Dareh, but other sites such as the Indus Basin in Pakistan and central Anatolia are also mentioned. Goats are browsing animals, not grazers like cattle and sheep, and will readily revert to the wild and become feral if given the opportunity. Today there are more than 300 breeds of goats living in climates ranging from high altitude mountains to deserts.
The two surviving species of camel are the dromedary, or one humped camel, which inhabits the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, and the Bactrian, or the two humped camel, which inhabits Central Asia. Both species have been domesticated, providing milk, meat, hair for textiles and goods such as felt pouches, and are working animals with tasks ranging from human transport to bearing loads. Dromedaries are believed to have been domesticated by humans in Somalia and Southern Arabia around 3,000 B.C. and the Bactrian in central Asia around 2,500B.C. Around 1200 B.C., the first camel saddles appeared, allowing for easier transportation and trade, and by 500 to 100 B.C., Bactrian camels attained military use.
Felis catus, or the domesticated cat has had a very long relationship with humans, but the exact domestication era is highly speculated. Most believe the ancient Egyptians were the first to domesticate cats as early as 4,000 years ago, but some evidence of a Neolithic site of Shillourokambos, shows a purposeful cat buried next to a human burial, dated between 7485 B.C. and 7185 B.C. According to archaeologist J.A. Baldwin, wild cats were most likely first attracted to human settlements to hunt rodents that fed on agricultural stores. Their skill in hunting may have earned them the affectionate attention of humans for their inherent pest control. Early Egyptians were known to worship a cat goddess, and even mummified their beloved pets for their journey to the next life with mummified mice.
The silkworm is the larva or caterpillar of the domesticated silk moth, Bombyx Mori, and an economically important insect as it is the primary producer of silk. The domesticated variety, compared to the wild form, has increased cocoon size, growth rate, and efficiency of its digestion. The silk moth has gained tolerance to human presence, handling, and living in crowded conditions. It can no longer fly, depending on human assistance in finding a mate, and lacks a fear of potential predators. Silkworms were first domesticated in China over 5000 years ago, and since then silk production capacity of the species has increased nearly tenfold. Silk was an important trade commodity that started in China then spread to Korea and Japan, India and later the West.