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domestication

OLogy Series
biology
card
293

domestication

OLogy Series
biology

For thousands of years, people have kept animals for many different reasons. They have kept sheep for wool, cows for milk, and dogs for work or companionship. When people tame and breed animals, this is called domestication. Every domestic animal we know today descended from a wild animal. Animals are easier to domesticate when they have certain physical traits and behaviors.

Digging for Answers
To find out more about when humans first began to dom-esticate horses, scientists have turned to a site called Krasnyi Yar. There, in the grasslands of Central Asia, the Botai people settled over 5,000 years ago.

Scientists have found thousands of horse bones at Krasnyi Yar, showing that the Botai depended on horses. But were these horses domestic or wild? Scientists are studying different kinds of evidence to find out.

For example, many of the bones are covered with cut marks, showing that the Botai killed the horses for their meat. With a whole village to feed and no signs of agri-culture, the village may have relied on horsemeat as its main food. The Botai may have also milked horses, as people in the region still do today. To find out, scientists are testing the pottery for tiny traces of milk.

Signs of fenced areas show the Botai may have kept their horses in corrals. Archae-ologists have also found tools used to make leather ropes--important for making bridles and lassos for controlling horses.

Today, almost all horses are domesticated. But some horses known as mustangs run freely in the American West grasslands. They are:

domesticated

feral

wild

Are you right?

Correct!

Mustangs are often called "wild horses," but they are actually feral. This means they have descended from horses that were once domesticated. The only true wild horse, the Przewalski, lives in Mongolia.

Which of the following behaviors is common among domestic animals?

they are naturally social

they have a tendency to submit, or let others take the lead

both of these

Are you right?

Correct!

The wild ancestors of most domestic animals lived in groups, and while some led, others followed. Through many generations of breeding, most domestic animals became more gentle and docile than their wild relatives.

Sandra Olsen, zooarchaeologist

I think that the horse was probably the most important animal that was ever domesticated by humans.

Once an animal is domesticated, it stops evolving.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

When humans breed animals, they seek out ones with preferred traits. Over many genera-tions, the animal's body and behavior are transformed. This is called artificial selection.

Definition: the taming and breeding of animals
When it began: between 8000 and 2500 BC, when people began farming and living in permanent settlements
Examples: horse, honeybee, pig, sheep, cattle, chicken, dog, cat, llama
Cool fact: Many domestic dogs and pigs have shorter snouts, floppier ears, and curlier tails than their wild ancestors. These physical traits may be linked to gentle behavior.

Image credits: courtesy of AMNH; Sandra Olsen: courtesy of Sandra Olsen.