Okay, let me stop you right there. I’ll admit to being biased on the subject, I take a lot of my cues on this from the Alternate History dot com forum, where, among those doing timelines starting in the stone age and involving alternate cradles of civilization, Diamond is considered somewhere in the realms of Sigmund Freud: he has some good points, and he’s not a bad place to start, but he makes a lot of errors and assumptions which don’t all hold out.
Most notable, are his criteria for large domesticates. The best things to really look at, are proximity; diet; temperament fits in there somewhere, but overall isn’t really that important, as it varies across individuals; breeding and maturation rates; and potential usefulness, in both directions. If we’re looking at the large ones, we notice a few trends: horses, deer, caribou/reindeer, cows/bulls, water buffalo, llamas, alpacas, camels, they’re all herbivores, specifically grass eaters, you can throw in goats and sheep to that lot too. Human agriculture is very grain centered, and grains are really all just grass seeds. Only one, possibly two domesticates predate agriculture, it’s notable that both of them are carnivores, but are overall less picky eaters than us, dogs and cats can and will eat just about any part of the animal, including parts that we won’t touch. The big thing is, that our diets don’t compete with our animals, for the most part, we can feed them things we can’t eat, or don’t want, and we propagate foods they like to eat. This is important.
Further, breeding and maturation rates are vary fast for all domesticated animals, in human terms. Cows reach sexual maturity in two years, and have relatively short gestations, as well as not infrequent multiple births. Compare to elephants, which take fifteen to twenty years, and a two year gestation, almost never have multiple births, and live for seventy years. Goats, sheep, llamas, horses, the maturation and gestation rates are all pretty close. The upper end for gestation is probably not too much longer than our own, and maturation… three years is probably pushing it unless the animal has nany, very obvious uses. In addition, we’re hunters, even after agriculture, we like eating meat, so when surpluses lead to population densities significantly higher than hunter-gatherers, we’re still hunting. Slower reproducing animals can’t handle the increased stresses on the population, and get locally extincted near centers of agricultural production. Most domestications, animal or plant, occur at edgelands rather than heartlands, the edges of where plants can survive, where we might actively try to encourage them, the edges of civilization, where the animals are continually replenished from areas beyond our easy reach. This is part of why there are so many domestic birds, they’re hard to kill off locally since they can fly in from anywhere. Also explaining the dompestication of guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils and other rodents, they breed too quickly to kill off, these birds and vermin eat our scraps, leftovers, things that attract predatory scavengers, things too small to care about, and in doing so provide free meat, as well as pushing out other, for whatever reason less desireable vermin.
Now onto the sticky issue of temperament. It plays a role, I can’t deny that. But, I have to bring up that behavior, even in animals is only partially genetic and inborn. There is no ethereal, wild, untameable soul inherent to the species of zebra, or cheetahs. People, including Diamond I believe, have often asked, “If horses were domesticated, why not Zebras?” Diamond’s theory explains this rather neatly, zebras are too skittish, solitary, and aggressive, compared to the wild ancestors of horses, they also lack a hierarchical herd or family structure. The problem with this explanation, is that it is false. While we don’t have any true wild populations of horses to compare to, wild horses are universally descended from escaped domestics, we can make fairly accuturate estimations. Wild horses and zebras were probably very much alike, zebras do in fact lack a heirarchy, but many other domestic animals do as well, at least among half of their populations. Most large domesticate hierarchies only really apply to the males, with their dominance displays, which are usually only really relevant during mating season. Horses are rather the exception, with all members of the herd following a lead mare, selected in a manner admittedly unknown to myself.
I should perhaps now point out the differences between domestication and taming. Certainly any animal can be tamed, but taming is a distinctly individual process, something done on a case at a time, perhaps thousands or millions of times, but still individually. Asian and african elephants both have been tamed, in India for many centuries, perhaps milennia, but they are not domesticated… yet, there’s some room for debate on them. On the other hand, no one has or should claim.that lions are domesticated, and we have records of tame ones going back two and a half thousand years.
Ya know, I walked away from this to make lunch, and now have no idea what else I was going to add. I guess the rant is now over.