The evolutionary epic has span a long time, though humans are the last species to have evolved, we’ve achieved quite a lot, we big brain apes. And we’ve managed to befriend other animals to work with us. Talking of domestication, we’ve tamed dogs, cats, horses, and even oxen to lend us a bark or ride. There’s a compelling argument that scientists claim that humans also show all possible signs of being domesticated. The catch: who domesticated us?
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The Domesticated Man
Some animals can be domesticated, and some can’t — try taming a zebra for a ride and you’d know what we mean. Have you ever wondered why wolves and foxes were tamed into dogs? We can’t clarify why, but its no wonder why horses are the most successful domesticated animals in history, whereas zebras are … well, untamed.
The most interesting thing about mammals is that, mammals tend to adapt certain features as they grow more domesticated. There show traits like docility and comfort around humans, which only make sense. But they also show physical features like small teeth, stout face, floppy ears, and neoteny — the tendency to retain a juvenile feature much longer as adults. The famous evolutionary biologist and botanist Charles Darwin noticed this trend of characteristics, and termed it as domestication syndrome.
Here’s the most interesting thing: We humans also exhibit these features as well. Take a good look at a chimpanzee. No arguments. They are your evolutionary cousins, and have quite much the same features as we do. We also exhibit neoteny. Humans take a long time to grow and develop as compared to other mammals, and even once we’ve grown, we tend to look more babyish than our furry cousins — our heads are bigger relative to our bodies as compared to other mammals, and with less hair, too. Two traits linked with youth.
Are We The Evolutionary Masters?
You might be wondering, if humans exhibit all possible sign of a domesticated species — including not only physical features but also the tendency of being social and docile, then how were we domesticated? And who even tamed us? Obvious answer: We domesticated ourselves.
We could argue that maybe domestication (though controversial) was the primary reason why humans settled into large communities; and as we evolved more neotenous, docile, and tolerant of one another, we became better equipped with working together. This theory has some weight of evidence backing it up. The comparisons of the skulls of Homo sapiens and that of Neanderthals — an extinct species of human with longer faces and bigger jaws — is a compelling reason why we are more domesticated.
We’re The Extraordinary Beast
There’s another theory that suggests that human domestication wasn’t entirely self-tamed. It points out that our domesticators are often what we tend to think of as the tamest organisms on the planet: plants — specifically wheat. Wheat was a cereal crop that originated from the fertile crescent, present-day Middle East. The crop is really tedious to cultivate, and before the agricultural revolution, we did just very well as hunter-gatherers.
However, agriculture gave humans a more delicious and nutritious diet with some to spare for later; a food surplus. This made us more subtle and considered to spend more time cultivating more crops rather than trekking for who-knows-how-long to scavenge for food. No wonder we later developed more farming tactics to get more of what we had just stumbled into; and eventually inventing techniques like irrigation, (and more recently fertilizers) to foster a bumper harvest.
So the argument goes: who domesticated humans. We think that we domesticated plants in order to sustain our lives, but think about it enough, it seems plants did. Let us know your thoughts in comments.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sun, Apr 28, 2019.