Darwin: A Forward Dude

Wow, Darwin isn’t as nearly stuffy as I thought he’d be. I’m thoroughly impressed with his candor toward the reader, and his commentary and prediction regarding potential reader outrage or disagreement. He still sounds like an academic (read: big words), but the reading was slightly less of a bore than I dreaded.

So I may be interpreting this wrong, but it seems that Darwin uses animal domestication and artificial selection as a guidebook for grouping and categorizing natural genetic differences. On page 264 he writes:

“Organic beings in a state of nature present some varieties, – that their organization is in some slight degree plastic; granting that many animals and plants have varied greatly under domestication, and that man by his power of selection has gone on accumulating such variations until he has made strong marked and firmly inherited races; granting all this, how, it may be asked, have species arisen in a state of nature?”

So domestication can, from a certain viewpoint, be considered natural selection on steroids…right? Darwin’s use of the domestication blueprint aims to discover the signs of similar ancestry between species; fair enough. But we can’t really take the comparison any further, can we? Because the goals of natural and artificial selection can vary wildly. Nature (and if this is wrong, please skewer me for it; I’m not actually referencing a source for this) seems to focus solely on the survival of a species or organism, while humanity’s aims for domestication can vary wildly. So shouldn’t an organism’s current state of domestication also vary wildly than if we had otherwise tampered with it?

This was alluded to in post from last week as well. The question here I think is – how plastic are animals? What are the variables? With enough time, can you completely change a creature’s composition? For example, with enough time and tampering, could we theoretically go from horse to fish? And how much of this will we actually find in nature? Darwin seems to be on a line of thought (although he disregards it in favor of species classification) that says nature will never have the breadth of change that domestication does. The parameters aren’t set. There seems to be a need for ‘total manipulation,’ a requisite for every variable to point in the proper direction to elicit truly drastic changes. This makes sense to me when we compare it to the paleo readings, and the discovery of evolution having varying rates of speed. Hell, this reminds of the chaos theory discussion that permeates Jurassic Park. My math major is showing, but to me, it all comes down to variables.

My conclusion – domestication provides such a greater species variety and difference than nature because the variables are controlled. It’s like psychological reinforcement, strict selection of desirable domesticate traits ‘reinforces’ natural selection (you can tell me that’s a stupid analogy). The better we control the variables, the greater the differences between domesticates and natural creatures, and the more careful we have to be with classifying the two by the same template. Especially if we forget about a certain reproductive amphibian variable that allows dinosaurs to breed and then kill us all.

Gold to Grass

Was this guy not meant to be intertwined in the complexities of domestication?  To go from the pursuit of gold to the pursuit of grass impresses me much more than it does Anderson.  I understand that Percy may have had a keen eye for meadows but I would expect that a perilous journey to the new world would produce more grand aspirations.  Perhaps this reveals the genius in Percy and also the importance of domestication.  As the book describes it, it seems that colonization began before the true potential for domestication was realized.  Does this mean that colonists believed they could lead a life independent from domestication?  This seems very unlikely especially since life in England depended on domestication so why did early colonists seem so surprised in an aspect of the land that should have been a requirement to deem it fit for colonization?  The book also describes the pursuit of agriculture arising because England wanted to differentiate itself from Spain’s conquests.  Again I find it funny that England did not pursue domestication and agriculture for the obvious benefits, but for some other reason.  Luck seems to have played too much of a role in the part of our history.

The short discussion about religion as a driving force for colonization and domestication really peaked my interest.  I do not doubt the fact that religion drove early colonization but later generations must have been more economically driven.  The children of farmers could not know about the differences between “civilized” and “uncivilized” besides what they read about or heard of England.  I guess my point here is that religion and economic means are both given as a reason for colonization, yet it seems to me that only economic reasons could have continued the pursuit of colonization.  This being said, perhaps religion did not play as much of a part in motivating colonization as some texts might has us believe.

I found it really unfortunate that the environment friendly way that Native American’s used the land was actually used to justify taking it from them.  This shows the ignorance of humans regarding our environment and unfortunately this divinely “just” relationship between man and nature has persisted and is the root of many of the problems we are faced with today.  I cannot believe how such absurd ways of justifying stealing were accepted.  I found some of them almost comical because it is so hard to believe that people actually believed their reasoning was just.  I almost want to hope that the colonists realized what they were doing was not right but did it anyways for self-gain.  I find this more acceptable than colonists actually believing they had a right to the land due to the way Native Americans lead their lives.  Puts a dark spin on Thanksgiving doesn’t it?  I enjoy and share in the author’s sarcasm”


“These activities, along with English-style agriculture, “improved” the land in ways that Indian practices did not.”


It is easy to define the colonists’ actions and intentions as immoral when the negative effects on an indigenous population are so apparent, but what if there were no native people in the Americas?  Would it still have been ok for colonists to go about settling the land the way they did?  This was the only way they knew how to survive and it worked, so perhaps some harm on the natural environment is necessary.  There has to be a balance at some point where the harm on the environment is not worth the benefits to human kind.   Sure we can cut down that tree to make a house for a family but let’s not cut down 10 trees so that family can have a house, a summer home and a winter home.  Things could be so different today if we hadn’t begun our expansion with such a superiority complex over the environment.  I believe that progress can be achieved somewhere between the spectrum of Native American attitudes toward nature and European colonists attitude towards nature.


I know that I didn’t discuss much about domestication but our class discussion always leads to questions of morality so I thought that I would blog about it for once.

Dog Sweaters and the Bee

Dog Sweaters and Bees

People and their pets. There is definitely a fascination there that ventures into the bizarre. I’ve heard of pets as companions, but never thought of them as social distinctions. I suppose that it shouldn’t strike me as odd—if people can distinguish themselves with an expensive car, they should be able to do so with different dogs, too. I always thought of dog clothing as being something that our modern, American, individualistic culture invented. I had no idea that animals were forced to suffer in embarrassing Christmas sweaters long before my time and in France. I wonder how animals feel about that? If it were me, I’d be mortified, but maybe somewhere in the dog’s pack mentality it sees clothes as an identifying characteristic of its pack, in which case the clothes might translate into a sense of belonging. I don’t know, maybe I overestimate the dog and it really is just an ugly sweater.

Societies that advocate for animal protection, which Bulliet would likely label as a direct result of a postdomestic society, are described as a part of the “Civilizing process” in this text. Of course, that protection extends only to certain animals. This is the line I found most intriguing:

“Stray cats and dogs quickly lost their standing as pets and became recategorized as “wild” animals, which in many instances also meant that their status shifted from that of an animal worthy of protection to one of an animal that had to be eliminated.”

This rings especially true to me—I thought of the ASPCA commercials with that sad Sarah McLachlan song. How many of those poor, mistreated animals would be seen as vermin outside the homes of their abusers? There does seem to be a certain hypocrisy here.

Also interesting to me is this different categorization—acclimatization, or the adaptation of a species to a foreign environment. If we think about things in terms of wild, domesticated, and acclimatized, then certainly it can also be said that these stages represent a varying degree of human intervention, with wild being none at all and acclimatization being complete intervention (It wouldn’t be there at all without people). There is also the implication that acclimatization involves simply bringing a species somewhere and letting it adapt. How does this idea mix with genetics and the idea that we can influence the genetic level to get desirable traits? Does that make acclimatization a somewhat archaic idea, made obsolete by the study of the genome?

Because my domesticate is the bee, I thought it would be a good way to multitask by ending on it. I found it interesting, though not surprising, that Darwin describes the Bee as being immune to selection attempts by humans. He says this because it is too hard to keep one species of bee from mingling with others. This isn’t something true of insects in general—we know from the silkworm that insects can indeed be changed by human intervention. My question is this—does that make the bee the ultimate exception in the history of domestication? People live with bees, we consider them a domesticate, and yet the bee exhibits no change as a result of this relationship. Before, we agreed that this change in the species as a result of human contact was a requirement to be considered a domesticate, in much the same way that dogs got floppy ears and silkworms lost their flight. If bees aren’t altered by human contact, are they really a domesticate at all? I’m finding myself asking the question again—what is domestication? Is there such a thing as an all-inclusive definition or, as is often the case in other fields, are there just exceptions?


Until Tuesday,


Natural Selection & Variability

Darwin in this reading has really expressed his ideas thoroughly and clearly. It’s impressive to see someone not beat around the bush whatsoever, and stick right to the point. Before reading this, I had no idea what this idea of variability was, or that humans had a major impact on it. I  highly value scientists opinions and ideas, so this was an enjoyable read for me.

I sometimes try to put myself in Darwin’s shoes, just to try and understand how society was… “accepting” his ideas on evolution. In the 1800′s, the religious creation idea was widely, commonly accepted. But regardless everyone can agree that human impacts on animals has caused variability. Without humans moving crops, animals, etc. from one location to another, and those animals or crops adapting to their new location, the variety of species of such would be a lot less as it is now. Natural selection some may call it, but is human involvement with nature really that “natural”?

I just don’t see how we can consider humans directly genetically modifying crops and animals as natural. Sure if you consider humans to be just another species in the Animal Kingdom, which we are. But we are so much more developed, both physically AND mentally. If you think about it, we can outsmart any other species, whether its distraction, kill tactics, defense, etc. So the “natural selection” of this genetically, mentally dominant species is considered legitimate to how nature is? I’m not so sure about that, although I do not disagree with Darwin that our selection has shaped nature, I just don’t like the term natural in front of selection.

It goes without saying that this selection process is exclusively involved with domesticated animals, in specific ones that provide use to humans. Whether for meat, furs, travel, etc. we will as humans weed out the small weak ones in exchange for the strong, meaty, colorful, exotic ones, or basically whatever the demand is at that time. We have been able to specifically modify domesticated animals into basically anything we want. Again, the term natural selection shows up in this scenario, but what is so natural of this genetic modification?

Darwin is a cool dude.

I am even more impressed with Darwin than I was before. He is a good and entertaining writer and explained his ideas clearly. He said “I hope that the reader will pause before coming to any final and hostile conclusion on the theory of natural selection.” I wonder what is must have been like to be Darwin? His ideas were not highly popular. I thought it was adorable and honest (and highly untypical of modern science writing) to encourage readers to consider his ideas. I was also surprised by his mention of a Creator in the last part of the second part of the Darwin reading. Nobody would mention a Creator, for any reason, in modern scientific writing. Attitudes towards religion were obviously very different then than they are now–the existence of a Creator was basically accepted in society.

Darwin uses of bees as an example of un-selectable animals. Since people cannot contain them, they cannot mate certain females with certain females. This, he says, domesticated bees are much like un-domesticated bees. This is an interesting idea, but I wonder if it is really the case. Surely bees would at least be affected by “natural” selection in domestication. Perhaps they couldn’t be selected to possess certain traits, but they would be changed by being kept by people, a sort of unnatural “natural” selection.

Of course, natural selection acts on domesticated animals. I had just never really thought about it, though. This idea of what happen at the interface between natural selection, methodical selection, and unconscious selection really fascinates me, because for most of the history of domesticates, this is how animals have been bred. The idea that different strains of cattle, sheep, and pigs developed in different parts of England is clear evidence for this. Different natural environments selected for certain traits. Then, people both intentionally and unintentionally selected certain animals for certain traits. Of course, modern poultry production depends mainly on methodical selection. However, even in that case, there must be some unconscious selection and natural (or, like I mentioned earlier, unnatural natural selection). Unconscious selection is inevitable unless selection is for one single trait and is done based upon numerical values for this trait (like weight at a certain age). And of course, animal ill-suited to their environments will die off, no matter what that environment is.

Pangenesis is a weird theory. I find old scientific theories very entertaining. Why did people think that this was feasible? How did they even come up with it? Why did they not object to the complete lack of evidence?

The Brantz reading was very interesting, particularly the portions on keeping pets and keeping animals in zoos. Reading things like that makes me wish that we had another semester of studying animal domestication–there are so many more interesting things to learn about.

This transition from keeping animals out of necessity to keeping animals as novelty items is an interesting one. Perhaps, people have co-evolved with animals so long that they have some some of innate need for the company of domesticates. Perhaps when  farming became unnecessary for the upper classes, they chose to keep pets to fulfill that innate need.

This process of acclimatization that Brantz discussed is one that would not be acceptable in today’s society–or at least, to today’s scientists. There is, increasingly, a focus on keeping animals and natural spaces as they were “meant to be.” What, though, does “meant to be” really mean? Ecosystems are constantly changing. We humans are but another animal in our ecosystems. Perhaps I am playing devils’ advocate here…
I would love to know more about the early history of zoos. How interesting that zoos originally attempted to “civilize” animals and now attempt to make their environments as natural as possible. I wonder what zoos will be like in 100 years or even 200 or 300. WIll they still exist? Will we conclude that it is unethical to keep animals in cages at all?

Creating Global Consciousness

Since last Tuesday I’ve been entertaining the notion that we, individually and collectively, can contribute to global consciousness though our writing created in a blog. It’s not a secret that I believe we can collectively create a good future and each of us individually have the ability to do so. Very truly, our experiences, creations, relationships, attitudes, and more are the things that create our ever-changing global consciousness, or better known as, our culture.

I think it is in that prospective where I discover my problem with (or at least my little preference for) the scientific biological genetic study of domestic animals. Evolution is simple, I previously nievely thought. I want to talk about individuals from the standpoint of conscious decisions. Like I explained in class last Tuesday, we can choose to achieve our ends though love or though pain (and arguably everywhere in between), we choose what we do, we chose how we do it, we chose our feelings, and we choose what qualities and values make up our character. Therefore, we collectively determine our culture, otherwise known as global consciousness, because we have complete control over what we do and who we are (or do we??).

I’ll admit there are other factors that influence our personal and global characters. What class hierarchy or geographic location one is born into will determine their probability of achieving a higher level of society mitigated by the amount of hard work and determination of the individual. But are these inequalities enough to say you don’t have enough time to create the right future? Do you not have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresea, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein?

As it may be, life might be just what this picture below explains.  It’s from a family general store blog about smart and conscious purchasing of canning jars and explained that, “to have a can of peaches was to preserve in a glass jar the memory of a summer day to be remembered in savory-peach-ripeness in the cold days of winter.”

Is life 10% genetics/biology and 90% personal influence/human control? More seriously, I was intrigued to learn how much understanding of the domestication of animals can shed light on the relationship between biology and culture.

Genetic evolution of a species and their respective characteristics, as a basic idea, is simple enough. The psychological character of an individual in a species is not strongly inherited – this is the difficulty of the selection process.

Variability, something humans can’t check or control, is the key to this understanding of human-animal domestic relationships created by biological and cultural pressures.

Domestic animals are integrated into the social life of humans. Pets, entertainment, food, clothes and various other commodities make domestic animals a product of both culture and evolution. Humans have influenced the evolution of animals but genetic variability prevents a perfect expected result. Humans can influence culture but their influence on civilization is dependent on factors like space, land and its contours, climate, vegetation, etc.

It is variability, then, I need to more fully consider when studying the historical relationship developments between humans and animals. After the readings this week, I see a web of moving, interconnected, influenced, influencing and variable parts that make up the history of global consciousness.

I better go ahead and accept that we may not have control over all things but we have  control over somethings. What we can influence with our mindful actions [such as writing a blog to discover thought to contribute to global consciousness, raising chickens in your backyard, or becoming a vegetarian] might be the most important understanding to consider when we’re living our lives. If you’re still convinced genetics and biology dictate the total system your question is, “What is our capacity to influence the future of genetics and biology?”

Or as explained by this pintrest pin quote:

& this is not referring to working your donkey…


Horses and Donkeys, oh my

I think Camilla, being the first to post between us two, hit most of the key topics that I was hoping to discuss in this week’s discussion. So I’m going to keep this short, and have some open ended questions to talk about for this week.

I’ll start with this:

Who was the first to understand that putting a bit in the mouth of the horse was instrumental to domesticating, and to go further, riding horses? What kind of adaptations have horses had with the introduction to such?

There was a lot of discussion on the differences in the domestication of the female vs. the male horse. Could there have been a dominant stallion (male) that was domesticated, as the readings mentioned? Why is there such a greater diversity of mares than stallions?

How long did it take people to realize that horses were beneficial not only for meat, but for riding and transportation as well? Could there have been an anxious look about getting on top of an animal twice or three times your size, and kicking it, telling it to go? What other factors contributed to the riding portion of horse usefulness?

When horses were introduced to aid in herding, how might that have changed the process? What kind of reactions might the herded animal (or the horse) have towards each other?

Most of what I was going to talk about was covered in Camilla’s post, but I’d like to reiterate some of her key points:

I like the idea of categorizing with respect to materials used (bronze age, iron, etc). But would this be too broad of a categorization? What “age”, depending on materials, would you consider us to be in now? Why?

In my vernacular, I use the term “dumb ass” quite frequently. Yet back in the day, the ass was respected and praised, as Camilla said. Besides the flow of the saying, why did it maintain a position as an insult for these last hundred or so years? What did Shakespeare have to do with that terminology?

Ah, the penis, what a topic to discuss. The donkey and horse penis was, I guess you could say, a well respected symbol, yet why? What gave it such a unique vibe? And why the horse and donkey?

The Horse

The experiment presentation of this reading amidst so many readings based upon speculations and ideas were extremely refreshing for me.  I enjoy the debate that surrounds a topic that cannot honestly be answered with absolute conviction, but the constant back and forth can get repetitive.  I find myself convinced of one ideal or notion on the origin of domestication only to be persuaded by another equally convincing claim.  The way Anthony presented his experiment really left the decision to the reader.  Of course he has to be partially biased just out of a sense of accomplishment for his work but he did an excellent job talking about skeptics of his work and even admitted to a failure.  My favorite part of the reading was the competition between Levine and Anthony.  After all the charts and data and reasoning I put my faith in Anthony’s mouth bit experiment over Levine’s use of variability to as a marker for domestication.  The scope for the bit theory is much narrower but much more concrete in my mind.  If it weren’t for the difficulty in finding proper specimens and the preciseness of the measurements it seems to me that the mouth bit theory could alone identify the origin of horse riding.  Unfortunately as mentioned in the text, horses were likely domesticated first for their winter meat and it wasn’t until later that horse riding became the normal.  But if we were able to unveil to questions behind the use of horses for riding then perhaps from their more could be discovered about the original domestication of the horse.  The narrow scope for the bit theory does not question the validity of the experiment in my mind.  When comparing the number of horses ridden to those consumed there should be no surprise that only a few teeth out of a sample show the marks of bit use.  I don’t have much experience with horses but I know it must have taken a very forward thinking and brave person to suggest shoving a piece of bone into the mouth of a wild animal in order to gain control over it.  I am completely sold on the bit theory and the experiment parameters.  If domestication truly happened because humans found a weak male that they could control then there is no question in my mind that domestication has negative impacts on a species.  Imagine where horses could be right now if we hadn’t bred the weakest of their genome.


The fact that acquiring things came before using archaeology as a tool to solve problems from the past really surprised me.  I couldn’t help but wonder how much history was lost in the pursuit of simply acquiring stone, bronze and iron pieces for display.  So much could have been gathered from where and why these artifacts where found.  I found the idea of using the progression of materials to define periods of time very appealing.  It may be a little simple but the progression of technology can really shape an entire culture and time.  Innovation is a major part of culture.  The second something becomes desirable because of ease or luxury, there will be those who use it to gain and those who gain to use it.  This affects every aspect of a population.  I think it’s unfortunate that a reoccurring theme in history is the incorporation of innovation and war.  When the horse was domesticated the reading discusses transportation in the effort of making alliances, alliances against others.  And then of course the benefits of horses were used over others instead of helping others.  I was happy to see some undisputable evidence that Diamond’s geography theory contains some pit falls.  I do not wish to completely discredit his stress on the importance of geography in domestication and evolution, but as proven in this reading there are many more variables that contribute more than geography



Why are western archaeologists so against migration as an explanation for prehistoric culture change?  This came up several times in the reading.

Food Fundamentals

The story given as the ‘beginning of archeology’ makes me a little hesitant. I was interested to learn how the categories of the ‘Ages’ were originally developed, but I expected something a bit more….scientific? Does anyone else think it’s weird that our chronology of early civilization is based off a government employee with no education on the subject deciding to categorize artifacts, saying “Yeah, that looks about right,”?  To be fair, Anthony goes on to list genuine historical criteria for determining chronology later in the article, but I thought I’d start with a comment on his introduction.

I especially liked Anthony’s section on food as cultural identity. It actually reminds me of Diamond (doesn’t everything remind me of Diamond?) – not in a comparison of subject matter, but in a question of fundamentals. Anthony writes:

“Long ago, before all these modern conveniences appeared, getting food determined how people spent much of their day, every day: what time they woke in the morning, where they went to work, what skills and knowledge they needed there, whether they could live in independent family homes or needed the much larger communal labor resources of a village, how long they were away from home, what kind of ecological resources they needed, what cooking and food-preparation skills they had to know, and even what foods they offered to the gods…wealth and the political power it conveyed were equated with cultivated land and pasture.”

Isn’t this exactly what Diamond contends? I think his work sees a bigger picture – concerning energy within a total environment, but I would say Anthony’s opinion on the importance of food in early history and culture should influence how we think about Diamond’s work. It would seem that not just any resources conferred technological dominance and power to cultures and people, but those specifically pertaining to the efficacious production of food. And this isn’t a coincidence; water and calories seem to be the most fundamental needs of a human. Diamond is all about the fundamentals: what were the ancient causes of certain societies’ (Europe’s) historical dominance over other peoples? However, I think we can reach a deeper conclusion. Anthony’s section on food, beyond the opening paragraph, carries an implication that food is such a good indicator of history and culture because it is so fundamental to both. My point is: I want to qualify Diamond’s ideas. I don’t think he went deep enough. I think a society’s ability to provide for its people outweigh other ‘energy’ factors. For example: silkworms provide a means of production within a society. They’re a useful domesticate. This doesn’t however, dictate that a society creating silk will have the means to become superior to its neighbors. Chickens, on the other hand, are a better domesticate, because of their higher caloric content. Cows are even better, as you can both eat them, and use them for labor in agriculture. Doesn’t it make sense that the fertile crescent was the center of early humanity if you consider they developed agriculture and grain cultivation?

I’m not sure I’ve actually broken new ground on any of this – we’ve touched on similar issues in class before. But I really took to the quoted paragraph and Anthony’s “What Did They Eat?” section. Regardless, I think this is something worth revisiting if class discussion heads in its direction.

Bit wear and Prehistory

As a budding historian, I think books and written records are pretty awesome.  Written records in particular are pretty great because that’s is what history is really.  History began when people started writing things down, and everything before is lost in the mists of prehistory, ultimately unknowable.

That’s what I used to think, anyway.  This week’s readings, among other things, changed the way I think about the supremacy of the written word.  Archaeology lends so much insight into early human populations.  Actually analyzing animal bones and charred seeds and what they mean is a little beyond me, but I can recognize the insight they can give.  I think one of the most interesting aspects was how bones can tell the age and gender of animals in a settlement and this in turn can tell whether the bones came from wild or domestic horses.  This is obviously important for determining when people domesticated horses.

Bit wear is incredibly interesting, and the fact that it so recently became studied is interesting to me.  As someone completely ignorant about horses and bits and such things, it seems pretty obvious that sticking a piece of metal in a horses mouth would change the horse’s teeth.  The matter is not so cut and dry as it appears though.  Assuming that bits do cause ware, so much can be gleaned from old horse teeth.  The question of where horse back riding originated can be answered by bit wear patterns on teeth.  The question of where it spread can be answered by the same thing.  It seems like such a small thing, a bit of ware on an old tooth, but it can tell us so much about early humans and the domesticated animals around us.

Linguistics are another source that can tell us a great deal about the movement of peoples before there were written records.  Again, the specifics of it go mostly over my head, but I trust that people smarter than I can trace how Indo-European languages developed over the years and can figure out what this means in terms of early humans.  And from what I understand, so much information can be derived from language.  We already knew this though.  As Kessler taught us, we experience vestiges of age old pastoralism in our language every day.  Language is so central to our lives and can tell us so much about our past.

I suppose part of this class was about looking at history before the written word made everything so easy.  There’s so much evidence about early humans and their animals if we know how to look.  As a historian, it has been so interesting to learn so much about a time that I, like so many others, think of as being prehistory.