Animal Domestication - Table of Dates and Places

How did we ever manage to domesticate so many animals?

Chickens, Chang Mai, Thailand
Chickens, Chang Mai, Thailand. David Wilmot

Animal domestication is what scholars call the millennia-long process that created the mutually beneficial relationship that exists today between animals and humans. Some of the ways people benefit from owning 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 farmer to visit relatives living long distances away; and changing the lean, nasty wild boar into a fat, friendly farm animal. 

While it may seem that people get all of the benefits out of the relationship, people also share some of the costs. Humans shelter animals, protecting them from harm and feeding them to fatten them up and make sure they reproduce for the next generation. But some of our most unpleasant diseases--tuberculosis, anthrax, and bird flu are just a few--come from the proximity to animal pens, and it is quite clear that our societies were directly molded by our new responsibilities.

How Did That Happen?

Not counting the domestic dog, who has been our partner for at least 15,000 years, the animal domestication process started about 12,000 years ago. Over that time, humans have learned to control animal access to food and other necessities of life by changing the behaviors and natures of their wild ancestors. All of the animals that we share our lives with today, such as dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, camels, geese, horses, and pigs, started out as wild animals but were changed over the hundreds and thousands of years into more sweet-natured and tractable partners in farming. 

And it's not just behavioral changes that were made during the domestication process--our new domesticated partners share a suite of physical changes, changes that were bred it either directly or indirectly during the domestication process. A reduction in size, white coats, ​and floppy ears are all mammalian syndrome characteristics bred into several of our domestic animal partners. 

Who Knows Where and When?

Different animals were domesticated in different parts of the world at different times by different cultures and different economies and climates. The following table describes the latest information on when scholars believe 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 in-depth personal histories of our collaborations with specific animals.

Archaeologist Melinda Zeder has hypothesized three broad pathways in which animal domestication might have occurred.

  • commensal pathway: wild animals were attracted to human settlements by the presence of food refuse (dogs, cats, guinea pigs)
  • prey pathway, or game management: in which actively hunted animals were first managed (cattle, goats, sheep, camelids, reindeer, and swine)
  • directed pathway: a deliberate effort by humans to capture, domesticate and use the animals (horses, donkeys, camels, reindeer).

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.

Sources

See table listings 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.

Domestication Table

Animal Where Domesticated Date
Dog undetermined ~14-30,000 BC?
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
Chicken Asia 6000 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
Horse Kazakhstan 3600 BC
Silkworm China 3500 BC
Bactrian camel China or Mongolia 3500 BC
Honey Bee Near East or Western Asia 3000 BC
Dromedary camel Saudi Arabia 3000 BC
Banteng Thailand 3000 BC
Yak Tibet 3000 BC
Water buffalo Pakistan 2500 BC
Duck Western Asia 2500 BC
Goose Germany 1500 BC
Mongoose? Egypt 1500 BC
Reindeer Siberia 1000 BC
Stingless bee Mexico 300 BC-200 AD
Turkey Mexico 100 BC-AD 100
Muscovy duck South America AD 100
Scarlet Macaw(?) Central America before AD 1000
Ostrich South Africa AD 1866