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History of Plant and Animal Domestication

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  • Nan Tao Ma

The domestication of plant and animal has always been an important progress in human agriculture and development. The domestication of plant such as wheat, grain or vegetable greatly improved the food obtain and capability which allowed an increase on population due to the stable food production; While the domestication of animal such as cow, horse or dog strength the development of human society by significantly decreasing the manpower needed and increasing the amount of work output. Although the domestication exists in human history for such a long time and it's common for human to domestication , there are still many questions and debate about the beginning of the domestication. What factor pushed human to domestication, how did they first do it and why they happened to develop in several widely spread area at the same time. The development of the domestication is another question that troubles people. Why in some other places there are a little or no domestication and what common does the domestication have in different area. In this essay, we are going to discuss and analyze the beginning of domestication of animal and plant by finding the factors that pushed people toward domestication of plant and animal from looking at time and environment ; And compare the different area of domestication to understand how did domestication develop through time and environment from knowing the common factors that they shared during the process of domestication.

To understand why something happened, it's always important to know when it had happen.

From the remain of sheep and goat that found in hominid site in southern and southern west Asia that were older than 10000 years ago showed that there is no sign or evidence of any domestication. It only suggested that hunters had been killing a whole population of goat and sheep for need of food. However after the period of that, around 9000 – 10000 years ago, there is a change toward the remain of sheep and goat that found in hominid site. The a large increase of skeleton remains of younger sheep and goat were found in the hominid area. This showed that the practice of domestication might began at that period of time, as the hominid started to keep herds of such animals away from the nature realm of wild sheep and goat and trying to make and raise them to adapted to human society. In the jiangxi province of China near the west side of the long river, the remain of rice is found in the an old cave ruins that was 9000 – 13000 years old and was once an settlement of early hominid that lived in that area along with stone made tools and other animal remains. Although it was still a debate on whether hominid did start to grow rice at that period of time, the large amount of remain in that had proved that hominid did have some kind of practice on domestication; Else, there would not be such big settlement near the long river, as hunting and gathering does not establish a permanent settlements for things like that, epically an area this large.

In the Middle East and East Asia , the remain of dogs were found around 8000 – 12000 years old.

As we knew, the dogs were wolves before they domesticated by human. The evidence of the dogs fossil in these areas gave an important evidence of when human started to domesticated animal, as dogs should be the one of the first animals that human domesticated due to fact that hominids' lives were based on hunting in the old time. There were more remains of other animals such as pig, horse or cow were later found in the ancient hominid's site that were 5000- 7000 years old. From all the data that were gathered, it proved that the practice of domestication of animal and plant started around 7000 -10000 years ago, when the neolithic age started. The rise of sea level and climate change right after quitting the ice age could be the important factors that forced hominid to change their life cycle they had and lead some of them to domesticate animal and plant other than hunting and gathering in the wild.

The explanation of the change of the life cycle and the change of nature of subsistence base of hominid in sudden around 7000 – 10000 years ago has always been a question that hounded many people. Why would they gave up their old life style of hunting and gathering and adapted a new way of living such as agriculture? There were many debates about why the hominid suddenly changed their way of life, there were several factors that I believe for the explanation of the changing.

The first factor was that the environment pressure forced hominid to change their way of living. The end of the ice age brought great changes to the environment of the earth. During the process this might have killed many traditional foods of hominid. For example the mammoths were killed because of the rapid shift of environment that decreased their cycle of life and being hunted too much by hominid; And not just mammoths, there might be also many other animals that hominid viewed as traditional food were largely decreasing due to the rapid environment which forced hominid to change their food sources and find a more stable way of keeping it.

The second factor was that the population pressure was the problem that triggered the transition of hunting to domesticate. Although hunting and gathering was a common way of life in the nature, however, when the population was too high and the traditional food in the area were decreasing,hunting and gathering would became unstable and much inefficient, as the food source existed in the area could not satisfy the needed of the hominids. Thus domestication was needed, agriculture and animal grazing were stable and providing large amount of food and compared to hunting, it wasted less energy and safer. One evidence of that was that compare 10000 years before where no clear sign of domestication and 10000 years after where domestication probably started there is large amount of animals skeleton remain found in the hominid's site. This showed that there was a large action of hunting that might have killed too much animal to support the fast growing hominid.

The third factor was the suitable climax helped the hominid on transition from hunting and gathering to domestication. During the early Holocene, although the climax changes destroyed many previous animals, the favorable weather and increased raining greatly helped the exuberance of vegetation and diversification of the plant family in the Holocene. This also invited many newer spices to entered this era, such as goat or sheep and they were much gentle, as the large amount of plant as food allowed them to not straggle for food. With the decreasing on traditional foods, hominids were forced to change their prey and food. However, well condition provided them enough diversity of foods that they had an significant increase on population which would eventually became a problem as in factor two, that hominid developed domestication inevitably to maintain a stable food source and gain abundant production from it, as domestication was much efficient than hunting and gathering when hominid were too populated. The domestication was developed due to the existed suitable condition and suitable spices that was not in the era before.

The one strong evidence that showed the possibility of the climax's influence led and improved the hominid's mutation from hunting and gathering into a stable domestication was the existence of raining and seasonal change after the the glacier was melted after the ending of the ice age. Before the Holocene entered, there was the big freeze knew as the “Younger Dryas”, where there whole land of earth was covered by ice and snows and no sign of seasonal change and raing. There was little or no sign of domestication. However in the Holocene, where the tropic area, existence of raining and seasonal changes appeared, the domestication of animal and plant grew rapidly in many area. The explanation of it also proved the theory I talked before; the raining and seasonal changes created a prefect cycle for agricultural which was not existed in the previous years. The climax provided a great opportunity that hominid would eventually adapted to it due the growing of population and exploring of food source to decrease the pressure in the new condition. This was the one of the most important factor that drove humanity into practice of domestication, as without the great environment, the domestication would not be practiced.

Overall, the exchange from hunting and gathering into the domestication was something that was inevitable. For example, when you have the opportunity to drive a car, you wold not want to keep on riding your bicycle. It was in the human nature to always find a better way to live, that we kept on mutating our method. The domestication was too obvious and too effective in the new and suitable environment that it was normal for hominid to discover and change their method into it. The need of new food source in the rapid changed world, the well structured and suitable condition for domestication pushed the hominid to change their way of life.

If the exchange of hunting and gathering to domestication was inevitable, why there were some place had it more intensely than others, why some place that was apparently suitable for domestication had little or no domestication and what factor these place which had domestication have had in common?

Although the factors in the last few paragraphs showed evidence and proved that due to the climax, needed and exploration of new food source and grow population pushed the hominid to adopt domestication, they were only the primary factor. There are also many side factors that would cause change , alter or perhaps stop the exchange from hunting and gathering society into domestication and agricultural. The special climax and weather condition of unique places and the animal or plant species in the particular places also have great influence on the mutation from hunting and gathering into domestication.

Even though, the global climax after the ice age became much hotter and warmer that it was suitable for agriculture, not all the area in the earth had suitable environment for domestication to be practiced. One obvious example was the Eskimo who lived near the north pole and still as a society of hunting and gathering. The crucial condition of the north pole was too harsh for any practice of agriculture, as the in the first few paragraphs we indicated that climax was the one of the most important factor for domestication of plant. In north pole, the cold air and non-existence of raining made it impossible for any grow plant to produce enough amount of food source. However, there was still little domestication such as making dogs as pet, as the need for fast traveling and more manpower led people to domesticate dogs ( environment pressure). Another example was the dessert area. In most place of dessert no domestication of animal nor domestication of plant were found as the environment was even too harsh for hominid to survive.

There are also many other suitable areas that has well structured environment for agriculture or grazing, but the species lived in its area or geography of it prevented hominid to domesticate in such areas. The species had very big impact on the success of domestication, as for some species , they were too hard or impossible to domesticate in that era. For example, in some areas of ancient Canada, the hominid there did not developed agricultural, but kept on hunting and gathering. The reason why this happened was because the animals in that area was too hard to domesticate and there was no useful plant that can be planted for extra food production. It was much and safer easier to kill a bear than domesticate it, as bears cannot reproduce fast enough and dangerous to kept. The Egypt had developed good agriculture, although it was in the middle of dessert. This happened because of its geography near the Nile river and the suitable plants that grow beside it. The Nile river provided enough water to support the people and agriculture, while the plants such as rice were productive and easy to rise.

The primary factor such as climax and side factors such species and geography decided the domestication of an area, as in many areas that was fast growing they all shared common elements.

In most demonstration area, the climax was often close or the same, as it was the most important factor for domestication. It should often be dry summer, raining winter and favors plant with seed that can survive long period. If summer was too wet or cold, or the overall season was too dry, most domesticated plant would not survive. This was why in cold like north pole or hot place like Africa, the domestication of plant for food was very hard. For most domesticated animal, they have been selected by several same reason. They should be unagressive and maybe unterrioral that they were easy to be capture and domesticate. They should be have fast growth rate and easy breeder in order to be reproduce in a fast rate so that the food supply of hominid society could be supported by them. They should also have a strong herding instinct that they were much easier to be controlled.

This was why in early domestication, the animals that had strong herding instinct such as sheep and goat or easy breeder and fast growth rate such as pig and chicken were selected first in most area, as they were easy to controlled, feed and could benefit hominid in high production rate of born. For the plant domestication, they also shared lots of common. Most of the plant that selected were near the habitation site and were high productive. They also had to be suited or adapted to the right seasonal cycle in order to provide enough food at right season for hominid. Overall, the domestication in different places shared many common as the climax, geography and the species in the area greatly affected the progress of domestication.

In conclude, the exchange of hunting and gathering to domestication was something that was inevitable for human, as the prefect environment and suitable species gave the opportunity for hominid to learn and practice domestication. More importantly, it was our human nature of always finding a better way of living led us to it and from the domestication we created more stable society and kept looking for a better life that led to technology and created the spectacular world we have today.


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