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Domestication of Animals in Neolithic Era Essay

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Updated: Apr 15th, 2019

Due to the fact that humans were largely dependent on cultivated crops, domestication of plants and animals was the next step in the development of civilization. More importantly, the transition to a sedentary way of life indicated the fact humans considered it unreasonable to travel from one land to another, hunting and gathering. Therefore, the most historians are inclined to believe that Neolithic revolution is strongly associated with domestication as a result of convergence of cultural development and climate changes.

In order to define the underpinnings of the revolution, including its causes and consequences, specific emphasis should be placed on the concept of domestication, conditions for moving form a nomadic way of life, as well as how the changes affected the development of prehistoric civilizations. Due to the fact that the domestication is an ongoing process, the accommodation of domestication patterns occurred gradually.

The first evidence and documentation about domestication of animals refers to the Middle East region. However, before considering this process, specific attention should be given to the analysis of underpinnings and preconditions for domesticating animals. At this point, Ucko and Dimbleby state, “the overall results of domestication become apparent in the expansion of population and in the growth of external trade”[1].

Followed by Epipaleolithic period, which had been characterized by the emergence of farming, the human activity in the Middle East depended largely on active communication and social interaction. Dogs were among the first species that were domesticated by men.

Presented initially as modifications of the wolves, the they prevailed in Europe, America, and Asia. Egyptian and Australian animals also originate from this period[2]. Application of particular genera, including ox and horse, was also among the most significant results of animal domestication process. The identified species were used as draft animals, which influenced further development of civilization.

The reasonable place for early domestication of animals is closely associated with the development of the Near Eastern civilizations. In particular, the process involved the wild forms of cattle, goats, and sheep. According to botanical surveys conducted by Possehl, wild barley was found in the Indo-Iranian boundaries, along with sheep, cattle and goats that were used by humans10,000 years ago[3].

Climatic and geographic observation of Afghan-Baluch region withdraws the possibility of cultivating crops and, therefore, it can be recognized that cattle breeding was typical of this region.

Nevertheless, the presented research has proven the obvious connection between the presence of agricultural activities and its influence on the emergence of animal husbandry. In addition, type of the crops prevailing in various regions also had a potent impact on the kind of animals that were domesticated.

The role of animals among the early Neolithic settlements was always multi-faceted and changing. The variety of animals was used by people to perform complementary and mutually agreed functions. There was a certain variety of animals that struck the balance between the availability of fodder and certain functions that animals could perform. For instance, oxen were used for plowing, adult sheep were necessary for producing wool, and calves served for sacrifice rituals[4].

Although the hypothesis about the development of cattle husbandry in Neolithic area is often rejected, the fact of domestication process was evident due to the continuous process of social fragmentation and advancement. At this point, Marciniak asserts, “cattle accompanied farmers…used the potential of cattle to build enduring social bonds”[5].

Apart from the emergence of various functions and roles performed by animals, human’s need for domestication was associated with the development of agriculture. In particular, human activities directly related to the cultivation of crops, which is impossible without using animals for plowing. As a result, food management practices became the leading cause for domesticating wild animals.

The difficulty in documenting the evidence about animal domestication lies in the exploring behavioral patterns rather than morphological trends that were attributed to prehistoric civilizations. At this point, the nature of human activities, as well as availability of natural resources, which were predetermined by climatic and geographic condition, were among the leading factors affecting the choice of animals that will be adjusted to the needs of Neolithic communities.

To enlarge on this issue, Zeder explains, “once humans began to store and deliberately plant the harvested seed stock of certain of the more promising plant species…a whole suite of adaptive responses was triggered”[6]. Once against, strong positive correlation between domestication of plants and that of animals requires a careful examination of agricultural situation in Neolithic era.

Rapid development of agriculture and horticulture has a potent impact on further adaptation of human activities. This is of particular to pastoralism – managing and breeding domestic types of animals. This advanced form of domestication also focused on herding animals, which is another step forward in cultural and social development of prehistoric civilizations[7].

In this respect, communities’ need for drink and food predetermined the pastoralists’ tendencies in their daily activities. In contrast to crop cultivators who had to remain on the same territory and control the farming process, pastoral tribes did not build permanent dwellings because they must control large herds and adjust to new lifestyles respectively.

One of the brightest historic cases of rapid animal husbandry refers to Bakhtiari Herders in the Zagros Mountains. These pastoral groups were regarded as independent communities that could effectively adjust to seasonal fluctuations in a mountainous environment. Constant migration of these tribes was predetermined with climatic conditions that made them move from one area to another to overcome watercourses and chasms.

Transition from hunting and gathering to cultivation and animal breeding is a significant step toward the development of human civilization in Neolithic era, which further led to social advancement and technological innovation. Apparently, domestication emerged when humans moved to agricultural and sedentary way of life.

At the same time, domestication could also be considered from an evolutionary perspective to define how social structure changed in the course of time. One aspect of domestication requires a biological analysis, including ecological and behavioral traits. From an ecological viewpoint, much bias arose concerning such species as gallinaceous birds and ungulate mammals.

From a biological perspective, the dominance herbivores and omnivores is evident. The above-presented behavioral traits are especially importance for defining the success of domestication. At this point, Jensen asserts, “social life allows many animals to live together in the human setting, and predisposes for hierarchical systems, where humans can more easily adopt the role of a dominant group leader”[8]. As a result, feeding habits that are not congruent with humans define the essence of successful cohabitation.

Due to the fact that domestication implies modification of functions and roles that animals should perform, shifts in physical appearance and biological modification was a logical outcome. For instance, behavioral effects involved changes in color, function, and size, leading to profound differences from a biological perspective. Despite these changes, the actual differences between wild animals and the domesticated ones were subtle.

In the majority of cases, these differences were confined to modified stimulus, leading to certain behavior traits to become more salient than others. No significantly new behaviors were added to the behavioral responses of domestic species[9]. Thus, although pigs had long been kept in restricted housing systems, they could still build nests once they were released. Tangible differences occurred due to the active selection procedures than men upheld over animals.

For instances, men learnt dogs to bark even under the influence of low stimulus; yet, there were species that were bred to act in the opposite way. Other modifications emerged as a result of evolutionary process. As an example, some animals become less fearful toward humans and shaped more socially tolerable behavior.

With regard to the changes of habits and lifestyles of prehistoric societies, animal domestication has certain undermining for structural alteration. Despite the fact that no evidence has been discovered concerning religion being at the core of governmental structure, social organization was egalitarian, with absence of labor division and insufficient roles distribution among the members of community.

As a prove, Zeder agrees that such aspects as “social structure based on a dominance hierarchy that can be co-opted by humans, tolerance of penning or living in crowded conditions, and breeding in captivity” were prevailing ones[10]. Therefore, the adaptation of animals in various regions was also premised on a range of non-morphological factors.

Apart from social perspective of animal domestication, much concern should be connected with the process of cultural development in various civilizations in Neolithic era. In particular, the emergence of animal husbandry changed every aspect of cultural systems.

Neolithic revolution created a solid foundation for development and advancement of new organizational structures in societies, including allocation of responsibilities, division of labor, and emergence of new experiences and skills. Due to the climatic conditions and geographical location, prehistoric societies were searching for efficient method to breed animals and cultivate crops.

Increased dependence on agriculture made humans more concerned with tools for increasing the level of harvest by domesticating animals. Differences in techniques and species involved in upbringing were also predetermined in religious and cultural outlooks of people on nature. For instance, Middle East region was among the first civilizations that managed to adapt a great number of species, which lead to rapid economic and cultural growth.

In conclusion, the history of animal domestication in Neolithic period is predetermined by a number of changes due to climatic conditions, agricultural development, and organization.

To begin with, early documentation of using various species was explained by the need of humans to search for extra forces to accelerate farming and agriculture. Some of the tribes used animals for breeding and producing wool. In the course of domestication process, most of animal function and roles were significantly modify to adjust to human needs.

In particular, domestic species become more socially tolerable and less fearful of humans. Their behavior slightly differed from that of wild animals, which allowed people to continue the adaptation process. As humans employ various breeding techniques, their social and cultural structures underwent significant changes as well. Specific attention requires economic development, demographics, behavioral patterns, and distributions of responsibilities.


Coming of Man. US: Taylor & Francis. n. d. Haviland, William, Prins Harald, McBride Bunny, and Dana Walrth. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge. London: Cengage Learning, 2010.

Jensen, Per. The Ethology of Domestic Animals: An Introductory Text. US: CABI, 2009.

Marciniak, Arkadiusz. Placing Animals in Neolithic: Social Zooarchaeology of Prehistoric Farming Commuities. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Possehl, Gregory L. The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. US: Rowma Altamira, 2002.

Ucko, Peter John and G. W. Dimbleby. The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals. US: Transaction Publishers, 2007.

Zeder, Melinda A. Documenting Domestication: New Genetic and Archaeological Paradigms. US: University of California Press, 2006.


  1. Peter John Ucko and G. W. Dimbleby. The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals. (US: Transaction Publishers, 2007). xxiv.
  2. Coming of Man. (US: Taylor & Francis. n. d), 129.
  3. Gregory L. Possehl. The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. (US: Rowma Altamira, 2002). 27
  4. Arkadiusz Marciniak. Placing Animals in Neolithic: Social Zooarchaeology of Prehistoric Farming Commuities. (New York: Routledge, 2005), 203
  5. . Arkadiusz Marciniak. Placing Animals in Neolithic: Social Zooarchaeology of Prehistoric Farming Commuities. (New York: Routledge, 2005) 204.
  6. Melinda Zeder,. Documenting Domestication: New Genetic and Archaeological Paradigms. (US: University of California Press, 2006) 6.
  7. William Haviland, Harald Prins, Bunny McBride, and Dana Walrth. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge. (London: Cengage Learning, 2010), 177.
  8. Per Jensen. The Ethology of Domestic Animals: An Introductory Text. (US: CABI, 2009).22
  9. Ibid 23.
  10. Melinda Zeder. Documenting Domestication: New Genetic and Archaeological Paradigms. (US: University of California Press, 2006), 171.
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