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The Domestication of Animals and Plants

Hunting and gathering were the primary activities of foraging communities in the prehistoric era. It implied that people simply harvested the goods already prepared for them by nature and resettled to a different area once the previous one was depleted. According to Suzman (2018), archaeologists and historians used to believe that hunting and gathering entailed constant living on the verge of starvation for the prehistoric communities. It was theorized that only with the emergence and development of agriculture, people provided humanity with steady sustenance. Nevertheless, findings discovered in the 20th century suggest that foraging communities were, in fact, well-nourished and healthy, even more so than early farmers. Consequently, the previous myth of hunting and gathering as a barely sufficient source of sustenance was successfully dismantled, and the term “original affluent society” appeared to describe foragers.

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In general, hunters and gatherers lived healthier lives and worked less than early farming communities. They were affluent in the direct understanding of the term, meaning that people were fully provided for, received the necessary nutrients, and were rather happy. Such communities had specific means of ensuring their endurance in the changeable landscape, as well. Suzman (2018) refers to the Ju/’hoansi people of Africa who retained their hunting and gathering lifestyle for a long period. It is said that the fundamental concept of envy helps them maintain the principles of egalitarianism. This balance sustained the community and ensured its endurance, which is why Ju/’hoansi people made an effort to maintain it to avoid additional scrutiny. Speaking in economic terms, Suzman (2018) refers to the feeling of envy as the invisible hand of the Ju/’hoansi social economy. However, while envy was a strong factor of motivation previously, it now poses challenges for the community, as it does not align with the contemporary landscape. The emergence of agriculture shifted the balance and allowed humanity to sustain itself under more advanced and civilized circumstances.

When agriculture emerged within various communities and replaced foraging as the primary means of sustenance, the economic model of humanity’s survival underwent major changes, as well. As such, the domestication of wild animals and plants became one of the most significant achievements of humanity at that point in history. It was a form of mutually beneficial symbiosis, which served as a major driving force of social evolution (Hirst, 2018). From one perspective, people offered animals better living conditions using the goods of advancing civilization. On the other hand, humanity could benefit from the developed physical characteristics of a species. In other words, domestication is a two-way partnership agreement between humanity and wilderness and also an area of intense interest for archaeologists. The world’s leading experts have always been interested in the history and the very process of domestication of various species.

In order to achieve the purpose of a more profound examination of animal and plant domestication, the field of archaeology has developed specific methods. First, experts conduct quantitative analyses of species’ remains pertaining to a specific period (Hirst, 2018). They calculate the overall demographics of animals, as well as the male-to-female ratio, average age, and cause of death. Sudden improvements in the demographics may speak of better living conditions enabled by the domestication process. Next, it is possible to examine the site composition to determine the purpose of specific areas and buildings. If the analysis returns the presence of cultivated fields, barns, and stables, it is the clear sign of domestication. Evidently, such analysis can be complicated, but archaeologists can also rely on specific items related to domesticated plants (shovel, sickle) and animals (leashes, saddles). Drawings, sculptures, and other prehistoric art forms featuring domesticated species also serve as a valuable source of information (Hirst, 2018). Overall, the domestication of animals and plants became a key process in humanity’s development and studying it is a matter of paramount importance for archeologists.


Hirst, K. K. (2018). Top signs of animal domestication. ThoughtCo. Web.

Suzman, J. (2018). Envy’s hidden hand. Aeon. Web.

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