Thursday, December 2, 2010

Early Domestication on the Taurus-Zagros Arc

Rock painting of moufflon sheep in the desert of Libya Akakus
Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Malavialle

Reviewing what is known about the early Fertile Crescent, I had a closer look at a superlative open source paper that was published in 2008.  It places dates on the earliest locations for the domestication of sheep, goats, pigs and cattle.

Importantly, it suggests that goats and sheep were domesticated first along the Taurus-Zagros Arc, during the Younger Dryas.  From there, it outlines the first expansion of people and domesticated animals westward into Cyprus and from there westward across the Mediterranean.  It also describes a southward expansion into the Levant shortly after initial domestication events in the Northern Fertile Crescent.

I consider it a must-read paper in the understanding of the expansion of farming and pastoralism from the Northern Fertile Crescent to the south and west.

Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin:  Origins, diffusion, and impact
Melinda A. Zeder

Link (Full text PDF publicly available)

"Abstract: The past decade has witnessed a quantum leap in our understanding of the origins, diffusion, and impact of early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin. In large measure these advances are attributable to new methods for documenting domestication in plants and animals. The initial steps toward plant and animal domestication in the Eastern Mediterranean can now be pushed back to the 12th millennium cal B.P. Evidence for herd management and crop cultivation appears at least 1,000 years earlier than the morphological changes traditionally used to document domestication. Different species seem to have been domesticated in different parts of the Fertile Crescent, with genetic analyses detecting multiple domestic lineages for each species. Recent evidence suggests that the expansion of domesticates and agricultural economies across the Mediterranean was accomplished by several waves of seafaring colonists who established coastal farming enclaves around the Mediterranean Basin. This process also involved the adoption of domesticates and domestic technologies by indigenous populations and the local domestication of some endemic species. Human environmental impacts are seen in the complete replacement of endemic island faunas by imported mainland fauna and in today’s anthropogenic, but threatened, Mediterranean landscapes where sustainable agricultural practices have helped maintain high biodiversity since the Neolithic."

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