1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email
K. Kris Hirst

The Domestication of Goats

By June 5, 2013

Follow me on:

Domestic goats (Capra hircus) were domesticated about 10,000-11,000 years ago, by Neolithic farmers in the Near East.

Goat Herd on Ithaki, Greece
The photograph of these sweet little goats on the island of Ithaki, Greece was taken by the Flickrite called Malingering.

Besides milk and meat, goats produced very useful dung for fuel, as well as for materials for clothing and building: hair, bone, skin and sinew. And they're adorable, don't you think?


October 24, 2006 at 3:03 pm
(1) Craig Darnell says:

Here is a paper I wrote last year on animal domestication.

Human Behavior Related to Animal Domestication
in the late Epipaleolithic Levant.
Craig Darnell
What human behaviors and life ways exhibited by semi sedentary incipient collectors could have contributed to domestication of animals in the Near East during the time of the Natufian? Where these developments or process intentional or unintentional? What aspects of Natufian culture might point to behaviors by humans that could lead to domestication of animals such as sheep and goats?
Capturing, imprinting, and taming of wild newborn animals lead to the domestication of animals. Rapid change from a herd of wild tamed animals into a herd of domesticated animals was brought about when access to the species wild gene pool was terminated.

Animal domestication is defined by the intervention of humans into the natural selection and breeding of wild animal populations. The process of domestication has been described in past works as the taming of wild spices and breeding over many generations to become domesticated (Zeuner 1963) (Dayan 1995). Domestication of some species would be successful while other spices would fail based on the behavior and predisposition of the species to domestication. Some species would better lend themselves to domestication with people that are more nomadic. Dogs for instance may be predisposed to domestication by nomadic peoples since the stock of domesticated dogs

came from wild wolf populations and their mobility can match that of a hunter-gather band. Horses would be another example since they are not ruminants allowing them to travel and graze without the need for rumination time. Ruminants such as sheep and goats would require domestication by more sedentary groups since they require rumination time after grazing and do not migrate over long distances but change their grazing areas in smaller seasonal shifts. For the purpose of this paper we will be considering the behavior of humans before domestication of animals in the Levant during the Natufian culture up until domestication is evident in the archaeological record.

Natufian Culture:
The Natufian were an epipaleolithic group of incipient gathers living in the Levant area of the Far East. They gathered wild cereals and hunted gazelles as their primary economic subsistence method. Early Natufian lived in a narrow strip between the eastern Mediterranean and the hilly inland areas bordering the Syrian Desert. This area offered the Natufian some vertical variation in subsistence environment from the lowlands along the costal plains to the higher mountain regions farther inland. Wild cereals were abundant and gazelles were hunted extensively. The Natufian were sedentary or semi-sedentary people that lived in mud brick house. There is some evidence that they did not live in these houses constantly but may have moved seasonally (Henry 1989: 180-181). The Natufian may have used small camps in the areas of seasonal gazelle movement for the purpose of hunting camps. Evidence for Natufian domestication of animals is inconclusive (Bar-Oz et al., 2004).

Importance of Newborn Capture and Animal Imprinting
For the purpose of explaining the importance of capturing newborn animal for utilization by humans I will use the definition of imprinting from the American Wildlife Foundation:
‘What is imprinting? What is socializing?
Shortly after birth/hatching baby animals identify and become dependent on their mothers, called imprinting. Rehabilitators work very hard to prevent wild animals from becoming tame or imprinting on humans. Human-imprinted animals don’t want to be with their own kind. If released, they can become a nuisance or a danger to humans, if unrecognized predators don’t immediately kill them. Imprinted animals cannot be returned to the wild’ (American Wild Life Foundation 2004).
Imprinting is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as: ‘A rapid learning process by which a newborn or very young animal establishes a behavior pattern of recognition and attraction to another animal of its own kind or to a substitute or an object identified as the parent’ (American Heritage Dictionary 2002). In order to obtain and keep a wild animal for utilization the animal must be captured at birth and undergo imprinting with humans. Any other captured wild animals would Immediately return to the wild upon first opportunity.

Human Behavior and Control of Animals

The Natufian may have practiced the capture and taming of newborn animals such as gazelle, sheep, goats and other animals. Indeed this practice has been observed in many cultures and still continues today. Economic basis for capture and taming would include wealth, subsistence sources, and prestige. Much as people with large herds of domesticated animals today are looked upon as wealthy in many cultures so might have the Natufian. The use of young ruminants in Natufian art may be an indication of the associated wealth and good fortune that owning the tamed wild animals represent. Dogs may have played an important part of this strategy in protecting and herding the animals. Henry, describing human burial with dog and gazelle remains, mentions this relationship, “the human-dog-gazelle association was also encountered on a floor surface at Mallaha” (Henry 1998: 187). The Dogs role in domestication may be more important than we realize and may even be necessary in animal domestication, control, and protection. In Natufian time’s possession of a large number of these tame animals would provide a source of milk and meat. Due to the close proximity of the Natufian settlements with the grazing range of wild gazelles and other ruminants there would be reason to assume that captured tame animals would be serviced by wild male species and produce offspring. Evidence for early animal taming could be represented in the reported goat hoof print found in a mud brick at the Ganj Dareh site in Iran. Gazelles were probably the first and most abundant species captured but due to the predisposition of this species they were never domesticated. Sheep and goats however would have possessed favorable

behavioral characteristics and therefore became domesticated in time. With a sizable herd of tame animals it may have become necessary to move these animals into seasonal pastures of the surrounding highlands simultaneously and possible with temporary hunting camps. With the movement of tame animals along with hunting parties there would have been additional opportunities for the fertilization of female tame animals. This annual movement of animals and people would predispose the culture to a form of Pastoralism.
A modern example of newborn capture can be seen in Pakistan. In the Kala Chitta Mountain Range wild newborn lambs are captured and sold to towns people of the area. The ownership of these wild urials is considered a status symbol. The favored method of capture is for local shepherds or grass cutters to watch wild pregnant ewes in their traditional lambing sites and capture the lamb immediately after birth (Awan 2001). An example of human capture of a young gazelle can be found in Guest of the Sheik by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. A young boy tries to feed a baby gazelle captured on a hunting trip when the mother was found dead (Fernea 1965: 321).

Animal control leading to domestication
Capture, imprinting, and taming as an early stage of animal control could have continued indefinitely given the almost unlimited access to the wild gene pool. For domestication to begin some mechanism of change would be needed to reduce access to the wild gene pool. Reduction in availability and access to these wild pools could come from a lowering in the numbers of wild species or a shift the natural range of the species.

The movement of wild gazelle natural range may be reflected in settlement patters shifts of the latter Natufian culture. Another possible cause would be competition from other people. Either from population growth or movement of new people into the area causing a reduction in useful territory and thus limitations on access to the wild gene pool. I propose this conscription or reduction in the wild gene pool access was the trigger that brought about rapid domestication of tame animals in the Near East. With the existence of this animal wealth and associated competition with other peoples one would expect to find an increase in violence and warfare. Late Natufian walled cities such Jericho would reflect this change (Redman 1978).
Archaeological Evidence
Herd management of these tame animals may be reflected in the higher percentage of male gazelles found at el-Wad Terrace. Age analysis at el-Wad Terrace revealed that 37% of the male remains were below the age of 24 months (Bar-Oz 2004). Bone morphology differences, such as lower bone mass, in the wild and tame species could represent animals that were not allowed to range freely and develop fully as their wild counterparts. No significant size change was noted at el-Wad Terrace between early and late Natufian phases (Bar-Oz 2004). Any size analysis would need to be based on specific animals and not the population as a whole. With access to the wild gene pool bone size would not be an identification factor. Bone morphology changes would not be apparent until the species became isolated from the wild gene pool and reached domestication.
As mentioned by Ofer Bar-Yosef, ‘attention given to young ruminants and their appearance as decoration on sickles is rather curious, but perhaps represents a totemic

group idol’ (Ofer Bar-Yosef 1998). This art could also represent a display of the value and good fortune in finding a new borne animal.
The human behavior of capturing, imprinting, and keeping wild species has lead to the unintentional domestication of some species. The key difference in tame animals and domesticated animals in this view came about when the wild gene pool was cut off from the captured and tame animals being kept by humans. Weather this restriction of wild genes came about by some natural process or by intervention of people it produced rapid change and quickened the domestication of animals. Some species were not predisposed to domestication while others were and the process succeeded. The main factors contributing to this process would be a sedentary or Semi-sedentary human population utilizing a population of local ruminants for part of their subsistence economy. Humans practicing capture, imprinting, and taming of new born members of this wild species that are in turn exposed to breeding with members of the wild species forming herds of wild tame animals. Some mechanism to cut off access to the wild gene pool thus causing rapid change and domestication. With an existing herd of both male and female tamed animals restricted to breed within that smaller group excluding any wild genes morphological changes would progress rapidly allowing domestication and further control over the animals by human selection.

American Heritage Dictionary, Forth Edition
2002, American Heritage Dictionary
American Wild Life Foundation web site;
2004, http://www.awildfound.org/faq.html#Imprint
Awan, Ali Ghulam
November 2001, Pet Trade Threatens Endangered Urials, Caprinae, newsletter of the IUCN/SCC Caprinae Specialist Group
Bar-Oz, G., T. Dayan, M. Weinstein-Evron, and D. Kaufman.
2004, The Natufian economy at el-Wad Terrace with special reference to gazelle exploitation patterns. Journal of Archaeological Science 31:217-231.

Dayan, T., and D. Simberloff
1995 Natufian gazelles: Proto-domestication reconsidered. Journal of Archaeological Science 22:671-675, 1995.
Fernea, E. W.
1965, Guests of the Sheik, Anchor Books, New York
Henry, DO.
1989, From Foraging to Agriculture, University of Pennsylvania Press
James Rachman
1994, Interpreting The Past, Animal Bones. University of California Press Berkeley and Los Angeles

Louise Martin and Nerissa Russell,
1997, Animal Bone Report, ÇATALHÖYÜK 1997 ARCHIVE REPORT
Ofer Bar-Yosef
1998, The Natufian Culture in the Levant, Threshold to the Origins of Agriculture,
Evolutionary Anthropology 6 (5): 159-177.
Redman, L. Charles
1978, The rise of Civilization, W.H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco
Zeuner, F.E.
1963, History of Domesticated Animals, Harper and Row: New York

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>
Top Related Searches
  • domestication
  • goats
  • gp
  • ©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.