Animal domestication is what scholars call the process of developing the mutually useful relationship between animals and humans. Over the past 12,000 years, humans have learned to control their access to food and other necessities of life by changing the behaviors and natures of wild animals. All of the animals that we use today, such as dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, camels, geese, horses, and pigs, started out as wild animals but were changed over the centuries and millennia into tamer, quieter animals. Some of the ways people benefit from a domesticated animal include keeping cattle in pens for access to milk and meat and for pulling plows; training dogs to be guardians and companions; teaching horses to adapt to the plow or take a rider; and changing the lean, nasty wild boar into a fat, friendly farm animal.
Different animals were domesticated in different parts of the world at different times. The following table describes when and where different animals were turned from wild beasts to be hunted or avoided, into animals we could live with and rely on. The table summarizes the current understandings of the earliest likely domestication date for each of the animal species, and a very rounded figure for when that might have happened. Live links on the table lead to additional information on the specific animals.
Thanks to Ronald Hicks at Ball State University for suggestions. Similar information on the domestication dates and places of plants is found on the Table of Plant Domestication.
See table listing for details on specific animals.
Zeder MA. 2008. Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, diffusion, and impact. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105(33):11597-11604.
|Sheep||Western Asia||8500 BC|
|Cat||Fertile Crescent||8500 BC|
|Goats||Western Asia||8000 BC|
|Pigs||Western Asia||7000 BC|
|Cattle||Eastern Sahara||7000 BC|
|Guinea pig||Andes Mountains||5000 BC|
|Taurine Cattle||Western Asia||6000 BC|
|Zebu||Indus Valley||5000 BC|
|Llama and Alpaca||Andes Mountains||4500 BC|
|Donkey||Northeast Africa||4000 BC|
|Bactrian camel||China or Mongolia||3500 BC|
|Honey Bee||Near East or Western Asia||3000 BC|
|Dromedary camel||Saudi Arabia||3000 BC|
|Water buffalo||Pakistan||2500 BC|
|Duck||Western Asia||2500 BC|
|Turkey||Mexico||100 BC-AD 100|
|Muscovy duck||South America||~AD 100|