March 18, 2010

Dog DNA

Nicholas Wade reports in the NYT on the latest on dog DNA:

Borrowing methods developed to study the genetics of human disease, researchers have concluded that dogs were probably first domesticated from wolves somewhere in the Middle East, in contrast to an earlier survey suggesting dogs originated in East Asia.

This finding puts the first known domestication — that of dogs — in the same place as the domestication of plants and other animals, and strengthens the link between the first animal to enter human society and the subsequent invention of agriculture about 10,000 years ago.

A Middle Eastern origin for the dog also fits in better with the archaeological evidence, and has enabled geneticists to reconstruct the entire history of the dog, from the first association between wolves and hunter gatherers some 20,000 years ago to the creation by Victorian dog fanciers of many of today’s breeds.

A research team led by Bridgett M. vonHoldt and Robert K. Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles, has analyzed a large collection of wolf and dog genomes from around the world. Scanning for similar runs of DNA, the researchers found that the Middle East was where wolf and dog genomes were most similar, although there was another area of overlap between East Asian wolves and dogs. Wolves were probably first domesticated in the Middle East, but after dogs had spread to East Asia there was a crossbreeding that injected more wolf genes into the dog genome, the researchers conclude in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

The archaeological evidence supports this idea, since some of the earliest dog remains have been found in the Middle East, dating from 12,000 years ago. The only earlier doglike remains occur in Belgium, at a site 31,000 years old, and in western Russia from 15,000 years ago. ...

Several thousand years later, in the first settled communities that began to appear in the Middle East 15,000 years ago, people began intervening in the breeding patterns of their camp followers, turning them into the first proto-dogs. One of the features they selected was small size, continuing the downsizing of the wolf body plan. “I think a long history such as that would explain how a large carnivore, which can eat you, eventually became stably incorporated in human society,” Dr. Wayne said. ...

Dr. Wayne was surprised to find that all the herding dogs grouped together, as did all the sight hounds and the scent hounds, making a perfect match between dogs’ various functions and the branches on the genetic tree. “I thought there would be many ways to build a herding dog and that they’d come from all over the tree, but there are not,” Dr. Wayne said.

This suggests that the first step, wolf to dog was the hardest, then generic dog to herding dog was also hard, while making subsequent variations on herding dog is easy. I don't know why dog breeders have given up on creating new functional breeds. For example, it is becoming common in New York City among people looking to rent an apartment to hire a dog to come sniff for bed bugs? Why not create a bed bug sniffing breed that is outstanding at this?

His team has also used the dog SNP chip to scan for genes that show signatures of selection. One such favored dog gene has a human counterpart that has been implicated in Williams syndrome, where it causes exceptional gregariousness.

That's pretty funny.

Dog domestication and human settlement occurred at the same time, some 15,000 years ago, raising the possibility that dogs may have had a complex impact on the structure of human society. Dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors. Notions of inheritance and ownership, Dr. Driscoll said, may have been prompted by the first dogs to permeate human society, laying an unexpected track from wolf to wealth.

Domesticating dogs was a big deal, although we don't know in what precise ways.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

55 comments:

Bill said...

Jared Diamond makes a big deal in Guns, Germs, and Steel about the alleged impossibility of domesticating the zebra (evidence: some guy tried for a couple of decades and failed). According to him, Eurasia was gifted with the easy-to-domesticate horse and Africa with the impossible-to-domesticate zebra. He pursues this same argument with grains as well (corn and wheat are allegedly easy, for example).

But how do we know that proto-horses were easier to domesticate than zebras? Maybe the domesticators were just smarter and more persistent.

Relevance to this post: if wolves got domesticated by Eurasians even though it was hard, we should update our priors in the direction of Eurasians domesticating horses even though it was hard. And etc.

Glossy said...

Perhaps wolves started hanging around people so that they could eat their leftovers. Maybe they tried to get into the niche now occupied by mice, cockroaches, etc. Perhaps some early cavemen found wolf puppies cute, so they'd take them and feed them, especially if they were orphans. I guess a puppy like that wouldn't be hostile to its owner, but could still be dangerous to other people, making those people respect the owner a little more.

Just guesses.

tommy said...

For example, it is becoming common in New York City among people looking to rent an apartment to hire a dog to come sniff for bed bugs? Why not create a bed bug sniffing breed that is outstanding at this?

It takes a lot of work, time, and resources to create new functional breeds. Consider how existing functionality has been poorly maintained among American dogs: How may cocker spaniels can act as bird dogs? How many mastiffs pounce upon and hold intruders? How many American Weimaraners can point? How many American-bred German Shepherds, Boxers, or Dobermans can compete successfully in Schutzhund? The trend is toward dogs that are functionless companions.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why dog breeders have given up on creating new functional breeds.

Rent-seeking.

There is a ton of money to be made in restricting the definition of the dog genome.

For the very same reason, you can't deploy artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization [much less cloning] when making thoroughbred race horses - in order to limit supply [and thereby maximize the profits of the rent-seekers], the rules of the game require that all thoroughbreds be made "the old-fashioned way".

Anonymous said...

I guess a puppy like that wouldn't be hostile to its owner, but could still be dangerous to other people, making those people respect the owner a little more.

Google Images: pet hyena.

.

tommy said...

One recent creation: the Russians have hybridized dogs with jackals to create a better detection dog.

Thrasymachus said...

People are stupid. The best thing to breed a dog for is temperment; a dog in your home needs to be well-behaved above all else. The closest you can get is a golden retriever, which may have hip problems.

But then if a dog is a status symbol, you want a specific appearance to signal to people who you are and what you're about. If the dog is sick and mentally deranged that's secondary.

Anonymous said...

Google Images: pet hyena.

I knew hyenas were smart, but I had no idea they were able to domesticate other animals.

Nanonymous said...

The paper is new but it's a mistake to think of it as a definitive and refuting all alternatives. The new data are still compatible with independent multisite domestication.

@Bill: ostrich was not domesticated in Africa - until it was domesticated over the lifetime of a single farmer.

Random Jerk said...

Isn't it strange how some species continue evolving, while others stay fixed as soon as it leaves Africa? My theory is that animals with four legs can keep on evolving, while two-legged cannot.

One thing that annoy me about how dogs are treated is the large disparities between dog breed usage. Since all dogs are identical on the inside, I think the police should use more chihuahuas. If we just let chihuas and the traditional police dog breeds grow up and train together, they would be functionally identical. The same thing naturally goes for Old English Sheep Dogs and Whippets. I'm very upset that people force these breeds into certain stereotypical roles rather than allowing their individual personalites to blossom.

Larissa said...

Why would anyone want a pet hyena? That is a vicious animal.

William B Swift said...

There is an obvious problem - what about pre-Columbian indian dogs. Wouldn't 15,000 years ago in the Mideast be too recent for them? I remember reading a couple of years ago that all of the original New World breeds had died out and been replaced with European derived breeds, so did they check any available sources for pre-Columbian dog genes (I don't know what the earlier reports were based on, I assume they found recoverable genetic materials in buried or mummified dog remains).

Kylie said...

tommy said: "The trend is toward dogs that are functionless companions."

That should be "nonworking", not "functionless". There's plenty of evidence that companion dogs function well in providing various health benefits to their owners, merely by being good company.
http://www.youmeworks.com/dogrelax.html

Anonymous said...

WhaT William Swift said: How do we know dogs didn't evolve by themselves? In the Americas or elsewhere?

Thin-skinned, big-toothed canines aren't necessarily less natural and evolutionarily plausible than thin-skinned big-teeth lions.

And if you were a hominid? Taming (or just tolerating, until other food ran low) a local animal? You'd tolerate thin-skinned dogs(evolve to be polite) but not wolves (evolve to nip each other, much less your kids, in dominance games). Taming comes a LONG way after tolerating.

Anonymous said...

Rent-seeking... when making thoroughbred race horses...

I've heard they do something similar with pet shop aquarium fish [Koi, Shubunkins, etc] - as I understand it, when the little fish eggs are gestating, the fish breeders treat them with some sort of a hormone which causes them all to develop into the same sex, so that the customers are only able to purchase same-sex fish, and, as a result, can't start their own breeding programs from the fish they purchase at the pet shops.

Anonymous said...

"'His team has also used the dog SNP chip to scan for genes that show signatures of selection. One such favored dog gene has a human counterpart that has been implicated in Williams syndrome, where it causes exceptional gregariousness.'

That's pretty funny."

Williams syndrome? Huh? New to me or am I missing the joke.

Le Mur said...

Scanning for similar runs of DNA, the researchers found that the Middle East was where wolf and dog genomes were most similar

Wouldn't that imply that dogs were domesticated LAST in the Mid East?

Anyway:

http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/10/17/paleolithic-dog-skull.html

...and toothy canine that lived 31,700 years ago ...
Remains for the older prehistoric dog, which were excavated at Goyet Cave in Belgium, suggest to the researchers that the Aurignacian people of Europe from the Upper Paleolithic period first domesticated dogs.
...
Ancient, 26,000-year-old footprints made by a child and a dog at Chauvet Cave, France, support the pet notion. Torch wipes accompanying the prints indicate the child held a torch while navigating the dark corridors accompanied by a dog.
...

Anonymous said...

Another function of domesticated wolves may have been for combat. Maybe they were a significant military factor in the days of small tribal bands.
That's interesting about new and specialized dog breeds. I bet we could brain storm a range of possibilities.
Something else I've thougth about: I wonder if it would be possible to domesticate ants for various purposes, food gathering or cleaning, through selective breeding. Ant nests show a variety of highly specialized activities, such as leaf gathering, aphid herding, or fungus colonization. It seems it would be possible to select them for other goal directed behaviors for food rewards. I have the patent on this idea.
In the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Psyche has to pick out all the millet seeds in a field as a task. A tribe of ants comes to her aid. What if this were possible?

Jack said...

The popularity of retrievers as pets (such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers) is due largely to their docile and eager-to-please temperment, which in turn is due to the purpose for which they were originally bred and are still widely used.

As the name implies, they were bred for retrieving game (primarily waterfowl) that their owners had shot. In order to do this, they had to wait patiently until a bird was shot, swim through the water to retrieve it, carrying it with a "soft mouth" (that is, firmly but gently, without breaking the skin with their teeth), and then dropping it at the owner's feet. Since the natural tendency of most dogs would be to keep such a delectable morsel for one's self, breeders had to select for the more calm, docile, and eager to please dogs in developing successful retrievers.

Since these traits are also what pet owners frequently value, the temperment of retrievers has made them very popular as family pets.

Hounds (bred for trailing game), Shepherds (bred for guarding and herding livestock) and terriers (bred for controlling vermin) were bred for different characteristics.

couchscientist said...

He leaves out the possibility that wolves and then dogs could have been kept around to eat. If the canines were already around eating scraps, it would have been an effecient arrangement. Feed them in times of plenty, and then they come to you when times are scarce -bam. They did not have sophisticated ways of storing left overs then, so storing the calories in the form of dogs would have been a good way. Heck, keeping dogs around for food might have been the impetus for keeping other animals around - cows, horses, pigs. Both the cow and horse started their road to domestication for their meat, and their use as a beast of burden only came later. I wouldnt be surprised if the mingling of wolves and humans had such a beginning as well.

couchscientist said...

I've wondered why someone doesnt breed a dog for its digestional characteristics. I mean, imagine how many poodles would sell if they had to urinate only once a day or take a dump once a week? Could it be done? Maybe that's unreasonable, but it would be nice to know if one breed had a slower system than others.

Mark said...

The archaeological evidence supports this idea, since some of the earliest dog remains have been found in the Middle East, dating from 12,000 years ago. The only earlier doglike remains occur in Belgium, at a site 31,000 years old, and in western Russia from 15,000 years ago. ...

How do they go from finding 31,000 year old dog remains in Belgium to claiming that the dog was domesticated 12,000 years ago in the Middle East only 12,000 years ago?

If dogs were domesticated in Europe 30,000 y.a. that would also be interesting because it's about the time cave paintings start to appear. According to Harpending this advancement in human endeavor was made possible by the crossbreeding of H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis, which injected new alleles into the human genome.

Anonymous said...

Modern Rez dogs don't seem too tame...

Steve Sailer said...

To compete with cats as indoor pets, somebody should breed an Apartment Dog Breed optimized for living indoors.

I had a cat once who had a rather dog-like personality in terms of friendliness. It was a nice combination for apartment living.

Ray Sawhill said...

Seems like a nice time to mention Terrierman, a blog dog-lovers should enjoy.

http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/

Mark said...

Off topic, but I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the Tom Hanks/Band of Brothers kerfuffle, and his unretracted suggestion that the American war in the Pacific was driven by racism.

What I find interesting was his typical modern multiculti take on the issue: "They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different."

Got that? They hated us because we lived differently; we hated them because they were different - i.e., because of their race.

That's all predictable. But since I first heard that Band of Brothers: The Pacific I kind of suspected that the Spielberg/Hanks take on the Pacific Theater would be less America-friendly for another reason as well: the fact that the Japanese weren't slaughtering Jews.

couchscientist said...

Qualities to breed for your apartment dog:
No to little shedding (poodle)
Friendly disposition (lab)
Tires easily (bull dog)
Scared of heights
infrequent urination & b.m.
Hunts/eats cockroaches (gecko)

stari_momak said...

if wolves got domesticated by Eurasians even though it was hard, we should update our priors in the direction of Eurasians domesticating horses even though it was hard.

Bayesian shout out!

Anonymous said...

Why were terriers breed for exterminating vermin when cats could do the same job? Is it because they are more obedient, and actually listen to their owners? or are terriers more intelligent than cats?

As for Couchscientist's idea the domestication of wolves into dogs was originally intended to use them as a food source: As much as my skin crawled at first hearing this suggestion, this isn't so far-fetched, when you consider that through 99% of human history, humans ate horses(the 1% of human history represents when we finally domesticated them and used them for transportation and work).

dearieme said...

How does the dingo fit in?

Anonymous said...

"How do they go from finding 31,000 year old dog remains in Belgium to claiming that the dog was domesticated 12,000 years ago in the Middle East only 12,000 years ago?"

Simple: it's the "light out of the East" dogma. Since civilization and our major religions came from the middle east, there's a huge intellectual bias out there to attribute EVERYTHING we have to the middle east, which is frankly complete bullsh!t but it's the default assumption of a lot of people, both inside academia and in the general population.

Getting people to recognize this ingrown bias is difficult - hence the ability of someone to make note of an earlier domestication of the dog in Europe while still insisting that the dog was domesticated "first" in the middle east, at a later date. The "light out of the East" bias is so deeply ingrained that people can engage in this kind of double-think without noticing it.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the Tom Hanks/Band of Brothers kerfuffle... I kind of suspected that the Spielberg/Hanks take on the Pacific Theater would be less America-friendly for another reason as well: the fact that the Japanese weren't slaughtering Jews.

That development was so obviously waiting to occur that its actualization kinda falls into the category of "dog bites man".

[No pun intended.]

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts: my dog is obsolete and werewolves.

The idea of dogs especially bred for indoor or apartment living roles has already been acted on.

I have a King Charles Spaniel. These incredibly cute little dogs were bred as indoor companions. My particular strain was bred by the Marlboroughs at Blenheim castle - the ancestral home of Winston Churchill.

Blenheim like Buckingham and the other English castles did not have central heating. During the "Little Ice Age" it was handy to have a lap dog to keep you warm. My dog has a body temperature of 102 and sparse hair on his belly. He really does function as a lap warmer.

Secondly people kept these dogs for their fleas. That is to say your fleas were supposed to jump off you onto the dog. The King Charles is a seventeenth century breed. In the Great Plague of 1665 such a dog might save your life.

Alas I have central heating in my house and keep both of us free of fleas, so my dog is obsolete.

At least one theory of werewolves traces all the legends back to the Beast of Gevaudan. Some modern scholars think that the beast was in fact a poorly domesticated hyena. Although in the wonderfully bizarre French film The Brotherhood of the Wolf they make a case for a poorly domesticated African lion.

Dutch Boy said...

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

- Groucho Marx

P.S. - apparently cats were first domesticated in the Middle East also.

Benn said...

Isn't Williams syndrome the opposite of autism- something I read. Also there is an opposing camp to the wolf basis of dogs. They say the dog is descended from an extinct camp following wild dog. The wolf blood is added later. Wolves don't respond to hand or body signals making them very difficult to domesticate.They are an unlikely candidate if there was an alternative. Dog meat is considered a health food. Eating one's own specie's is the healthiest meat,it is most easily assimilated of course. A lesson from farming.Dog is #2. American Indians ate dog, isn't it a common food for hunter gathering groups? The Swiss had to prohibit the export of prize St.Bernards. It seems Asians were discovered dining on the lovely beasts. I believe the Shih Tzu is considered a good apartment candidate.

Benn said...

Here is an extensive article on the world's consumption of dog.
http://www.lifeinthefastlane.ca/dog-meat-in-beijing-ordered-off-menu-for-olympics/offbeat-news

It looks like the healthy angle is hokum.

Anonymous said...

"Why were terriers breed for exterminating vermin when cats could do the same job? Is it because they are more obedient, and actually listen to their owners? or are terriers more intelligent than cats?"

Ever seen a cat dig up a burrow on command? Cats are more of a generalised floating force when it comes to rodent control while terriers can be targeted at a specific infestation such as the aforemention burrow or some rats in the barn. Inside a house or perhaps a ship you'd be better off with a cat, but if you want to dig up a pest's burrow so you can kill him at home you'd be better off with a terrier.


"What I find interesting was his typical modern multiculti take on the issue: "They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different.""

Surely the Japanese soldiers wanted to kill the American soldiers because that was the job at hand and vice versa while the desire of the Japanese nation was empire. I think that had more to do with emulating the imperial powers that the Japanese had come into contact with than it does with hating the American way of life.

"At least one theory of werewolves traces all the legends back to the Beast of Gevaudan. Some modern scholars think that the beast was in fact a poorly domesticated hyena. Although in the wonderfully bizarre French film The Brotherhood of the Wolf they make a case for a poorly domesticated African lion"

Lion? Was it? I thought it was something of mutant wolf monster. Either way that film really fell apart in the third act.

Jack said...

"Why were terriers breed for exterminating vermin when cats could do the same job?"

My guess is that this is due to terriers being able to take on larger vermin (cats are good at catching mice, but larger rats would give them problems). Also, while a cat will generally kill only one rodent at a time, a terrier can kill dozens within a few minutes. At one time, the use of terriers in rat-baiting was a common sport, with the dogs let into pits filled with up to 100 rats, with bets placed on how long it would take the terrier to kill all of them. Of course, terriers also serve a dual purpose, in that thay are also used in hunting small game.

Jack said...

Dogs first being domesticated in the Middle East is somewhat ironic, given the contemptuous attitude with which dogs have traditionally regarded in the region. Although stray dogs can be seen in any Arab city, dogs are rarely kept as pets, and are regarded as unclean in Islamic tradition. This attitude does not extend to cats, which are not held in the same contempt as dogs (in contrast to medieval Europe, where dogs were viewed as symbols of fidelity, while cats were viewed with suspicion).

This negative attitude towards dogs does not seem to be due to Islam- dogs have been despised in the region since ancient times, and early Muslims simply accepted the prevailing antipathy. References to dogs in the Old Testament, for example. are invariably contemptuous.

Dogs have traditionally fared better in the western mind, at least as far back as Homer's account of Odysseus and Argos.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks for the explanation about terriers. I remember that the Guinness Book of World Records 40 years ago, when it had all sorts of great stuff in it, had some terrier from Victorian times credited as the world's greatest rat-killer.

Steve Sailer said...

Also, I would guess that cats would be good at catching mice if there aren't a huge number of mice around. But if you want to regain control of a building that has been overrun by rodents, you'd want to first bring in higher-energy terriers. After that, a cat that sleeps 18 hours per day can keep things stable.

Anonymous said...

I have a cat, a terrier and many vermin. The cat treats mice as sport and is inefficient in the hunt.
It seems to express its domestication.
The terrier however is driven by her breeding and will take on rats, mice, rabbits, wild cats and even possums, even though she is a perfectly well fed small 9 yr old Jack Russell.
She does however require a nana-nap in the afternoons.

Henry Canaday said...

I’m not sure the horse model, refrigerator-to-worker-to-pal, works for dogs. To be an efficient storage device for food, the animal has to eat what men will not eat, or at least not when they eat it. That works for horses and cows because they can eat grass and convert it to human-edible food (themselves) over long periods of grazing. During these long periods of storing food, the horses can mate and procreate. The genetic characteristics that prompt horses to hang around and trust a tribe of men are rewarded by the procreation of more horses that are genetically similar.

But dogs, I think, eat much the same food as man. They would thus have to fulfill this storage function by eating what man might eat, but does not need at the moment. That is, they would fill in during the feast-or-famine cycle that was common among hunter-gatherers. The tribe makes a big kill, has too much to eat, gives scraps to dogs, dogs store the food, then man eats dogs later before the next big kill.

Problem: these feast-or-famine cycles were rather brief, a couple of weeks to a month, I think. There would not be much time for the dogs to mate. There would thus be no evolutionary reward for the dogs having the genetic characteristics that prompted them to hang around or trust man in the first place.

Anonymous said...

World champion rat-killer:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat-baiting#Jacko

People are stupid. The best thing to breed a dog for is temperment; a dog in your home needs to be well-behaved above all else. The closest you can get is a golden retriever, which may have hip problems.

#1 health problem with Goldens is cancer:
http://www.goldenretrieverfoundation.org/research.html

Inbreeding and the popular sire effect.

David said...

I don't understand the thinking (?) behind cooping a big dog up in a small apartment. But I guess I'm tired of listening to the dog next door barking its head off and whining-crying-screaming and scratching the hell out of the door, literally all day long (in 8-hour stretches). Generally dog-owners are clueless this activity is occurring, and they resent the news as a rude imposition. Jerks.

As to the souvenirs left all over the property, and the long impromptu barking fits during 2AM poop-runs: let's not even go there.

No, your ill-smelling dogs are neither cute, nor especially well-behaved, nor appreciated by 95% of the people around you.

Baloo said...

What about Persians? I somewhere got the impression that pre-Muslim Persians thought about dog the same way Europeans do.

Reactionary said...

Problem: these feast-or-famine cycles were rather brief, a couple of weeks to a month, I think. There would not be much time for the dogs to mate. There would thus be no evolutionary reward for the dogs having the genetic characteristics that prompted them to hang around or trust man in the first place.

Ergo, dogs were never historically viewed as a food source, because otherwise they would resemble cattle at this point. Ergo, only post-modern externalities would explain dogs being viewed as a source of cheap calories in an epoch of cultivated crops and domesticated cud-chewers.

Bruce said...

Thrasymachus said... "The closest you can get is a golden retriever"

Give me a Newfoundland over a Retriever anyday. Just as sweet but they actually might do something if someone breaks into your house and tries to hurt you (besides lick the intruder). They look like a big bear.

Middle Easterners don't like dogs? One more reason to end all immigration from that area of the world.

Anonymous said...

I thought the dogs-descended-from-wolves theory had been discarded. Not saying there is no wolf input into domestic dogs.

Dogs left to go feral or semi-feral never seem to adopt wolf characteristics. Left to breed amongst themselves they tend towards medium size and shortish brown hair, not wolf like in appearance.

Anonymous said...

But how do we know that proto-horses were easier to domesticate than zebras? Maybe the domesticators were just smarter and more persistent.

As you point out we dont have much evidence of people trying to domesticate zebra in the modern era. After all, whats the point? We already have horses. Which is lucky for Diamond's theory.

Anonymous said...

In the 19th century Francis Galton speculated dogs might be trained to detect some of the major diseases in people. I have never heard of this being explored. There are many rural areas in third world nations where an applicaton like this might be practical and merciful.

Steve Sailer said...

Google

cancer sniffing dog

There appears to be evidence that some dogs can be trained to detect some cancers in humans.

Anonymous said...

"Bill said...
Jared Diamond makes a big deal in Guns, Germs, and Steel about the alleged impossibility of domesticating the zebra (evidence: some guy tried for a couple of decades and failed). According to him, Eurasia was gifted with the easy-to-domesticate horse and Africa with the impossible-to-domesticate zebra. He pursues this same argument with grains as well (corn and wheat are allegedly easy, for example).

But how do we know that proto-horses were easier to domesticate than zebras? Maybe the domesticators were just smarter and more persistent."

This is just part of Diamond's meme that people are identical and just respond differently to their different environments.

The fact is that Europeans and Asians are really good at domesticating mammals. Just to prove how easy it is, Russian geneticist Dmitri Belyaev managed to turn nasty wild foxes into cute, cuddly totally domesticated pets in 50 years of selective breeding. Indians managed to domesticate oh, elephants and water buffalo. Those are about as big, mean and head strong an animal as you will ever come across. So the notion that you can't domesticate a zebra is just ridiculous on it's face. If we can domesticate red deer, musk oxen, camels, yaks, horses, zebus, donkeys....a zebra can be domesticated. Africans just sucked at domesticating animals. Hence, the vast majority of animals were domesticated in Europe, the Middle East, India, China and in the Americas.

The fact that humans have domesticated insects, fish, birds, and most types of mammals (and hell, we might as well includes lizards as well), pretty much indicates we can domesticate anything we put our mind to. People keep large cats as pets, and besides the occasional instance when one gets pissed and rips off someone face, a tiger around the house isn't so bad. Russians have made an art out of training bears and making them more or less domesticated. Hell, we have practically domesticated chimps and orangs and gorillas. I mean if a giant gorilla has been raised in human society and communicates with people with sign language and interacts like a kind of dim human child with people, it isn't really a wild animal anymore.

The zebra issue boils down to them being unpredictable and easily spooked and apt to attack a person. Umm, yeah, horses have the same problems. But you selectively breed the calmer ones and have experienced trainers break the wilder ones. So Diamond has to make up a story which excuses Africa from it's inability to domesticate the rather large abundance of mammals on the continent. I mean neither the Egyptians, nor later the Mongols found cheetahs particularly hard to tame. And the Mongols in particular found that they were excellent hunting animals. (go figure). Sub-Saharan Africans never figured out this trick apparently. The had buffalo, elephants, hunting cats, hunting dogs, all sorts of antelope...couldn't domesticate any of it. Oh, right, the Carthaginians also came down to Africa and figured out how to domesticate African elephants. Diamond just needs to admit that Sub-Saharan Africa couldn't domesticate an animal if their lives depended on it (and they did and still do).

As for corn being allegedly easy to domesticate--it was probably one of the most complex plant domestications, maybe the most complex ever. I can give Mexican's a break for not figuring out the wheel since they did manage a fine job with corn.

Anonymous said...

Dogs appear in natural circumstances often to be aroused by quietly behaved persons that are demented. Dog behavior suggests the smell detection of aspects of the biological basis of some forms of mental disorder--e.g., schizophrenia. For centuries physicians in the Western World relied their human senses to make provisional diagnoses,
involving the smell and careful visual inspections of urine and feces and sometimes the faint tasting of urine captured onto a physician's finger. Jonathan Swift's eccentric and brilliant inspection of human feces and drawings of the major variants of human feces became greatly useful in this regard. The Chinese have used animals as "sensors" of the precursors of earthquakes that are not within the range of normal human sensory detection. It is unclear whether extensive experiments have ever been carried out on suitable dog breeds to see if they can be four-legged medical technology labs, if primitive ones.

Anonymous said...

Dogs detecting cancer
Reportedly (from UK ) there's some
evidence to suggest some dogs can detect by sense of smell the bio-chemical precursors to epiletpic seizures