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Domestication (also domestication , from Latin domesticus "domestic") is an intraspecific process of change in wild animals or wild plants , in which these are genetically isolated from the wild form by humans over generations . Wild animals are domesticated to domestic animals , wild plants are to be cultivated . Because of this and further breeding , use by humans is often only possible or usability can be improved enormously (see farm animals and useful plants ).

The following text deals with the domestication of animals. For plants see plant breeding .

Domestication of animals

The first domestication of wild animals took place in the same regions, and by the same human populations, who also grew the first plants and developed crops from them, i.e. were the first to farm . The only exception, as far as is known, is the dog, which was domesticated by nomadic hunters and gatherers thousands of years before they settled down. For most of the early domestic animals, three independent centers of the earliest domestication can be identified, which at the same time were independent regions when agriculture was invented: the " Fertile Crescent " in the Middle East about 10,500 to 10,000 years ago, at the same time, or a little later, Central China, and, much later, the South American Andes. As soon as people in other regions also began to settle down and do agriculture, or the first farmers from the early centers immigrated to new regions, further suitable species were domesticated in the new regions. Genetic studies (including palaeogenetic studies based on bone fragments excavated in archaeological excavations) show that the domestic animals were in genetic exchange with wild populations of the original species in the same region for thousands of years after their domestication. Modern animal breeding, which keeps pets under complete control and tries to avoid any contact with wild animals, is a comparatively young invention and only became common thousands of years after the first domestication.

The domestication of wild animals should not be with the taming be mistaken for a single wild animal. Domestication has only been successful for a few species, while others, although some of them have been tamed and kept for thousands of years, could never be domesticated. Although the people of the first farming cultures hunted gazelles on a large scale ( Edmigazelle and Dorkasgazelle ) and sometimes kept them in large fences for a long time, they were never domesticated. Also onager (wild ass) or zebras were, despite many attempts and closely related species of domestic animals, not domestizierbar.

By the onset of domestication of an animal species, the conditions for the development of the species are changed decisively. The natural evolutionary development is replaced by conscious or unconscious selection criteria of humans. The genetic characteristics of the animals therefore change in the context of domestication.

If people engaged in agriculture immigrated to new regions, they usually took their pets with them instead of starting over with domestication in their new home. This means that the original home of many domestic animals can also be narrowed down to widespread wild parent species. However, matings with wild animals also occurred in the new region and this led to introgression of their genetic makeup. As in the case of European domestic pigs, the alleles of the animals originally brought from Anatolia in this case could be almost completely displaced from the gene pool and replaced by those from the new region, here European wild boar.

Although the domestication of each species was an independent event, scientists today group it together into three scenarios or "paths".

Domestication through commensalism

For some of the first domesticated species, a scenario is believed likely where the initiative came from wildlife rather than humans. According to this, wild animals specifically sought out humans and their settlements, for example to look for food in waste. Only later did people not only hunt these familiar animals, but gradually take them more and more into their care. The fact that one species benefits from another species in its diet without disadvantaging or damaging it is known in zoology as commensalism , which is why the hypothesis got its name. Domestication in this way is being discussed for dogs and house cats, but also house pigeons, for which human structures could initially serve as "artificial breeding rocks". Guinea pigs, chickens, or even wild boars could have joined humans as garbage eaters. The wet rice culture in China provided a habitat for carp, ducks and geese even before they became pets.

Domestication as prey

For the most important domestic animals of the early Neolithic farming cultures, sheep, goats and cattle, it is assumed that animals initially driven into enclosures by driven hunt were kept there as a kind of living store before they remained in human care and became pets. Such mass hunts of the respective cultures are archaeologically proven by finds, some of them kilometers long, barriers in today's Jordan and Syria. At the same time it can be seen that the animals became rarer due to the sharp hunting of the growing human population. An indication of longer keeping is when young animals and female animals predominate in the bone material, which are better suited for this than the more aggressive males. It does not seem improbable that long-term keeping was not initially intended, but resulted from the necessity of having to stretch out the increasingly rare prey for longer and longer periods of time.

Direct domestication

Direct domestication assumes that wild animals were deliberately captured and kept with the clear intention of using them in the long term and making them pets. While the other scenarios are assumed to have developed by chance, the will to domesticate would have been there from the start. This seems more plausible for most late domesticated species where the concept of domestic animals was already known and could now be carried over to new species. Direct domestication inevitably appears above all for species that were not primarily kept as meat suppliers but for other uses, such as horses, donkeys and camels originally kept as carrying and draft animals (and only much later as mounts).

Important domesticated species

Domestic cat


Wolves as dogs were the first pets and were probably initially as a hunting helper and later as herding dogs dressed. Another theory is that the wolf (as a puppy) joined humans. This early stage of (self) domestication can still be observed today on Pemba in East Africa and Namibia. According to this theory, the “house dog” is a wolf that persists in the juvenile phase, which is supported by the observation that juvenile wolves can be trained in the same way as dogs; with puberty, however, they lose all tameness and change to pure wolf behavior (e.g. increased flight distance ).

Early evidence, a paw print in Chauvet Cave , is over 23,000 years old. A 1975 in a cave in the Siberian Altai Mountains found Canidenschädel applies to morphological criteria as a fossil of a dog that has been dated at 33,000 years. According to a genetic calculation, the dog and the wolf are said to have separated at least 135,000 years ago ( Stone Age ), which means that dogs or tamed wolf offspring have lived with humans as pets for a much longer time; More at: house dog .

House cats are a species of predator domesticated about 9,000 years ago that was first detected in Cyprus. In Central Europe they did not displace the previously domesticated ferret , which descends from the polecat , until some time after the beginning of our era .


Egyptian drawing of domesticated cattle

Herbivores initially served as a meat supply; it was not used as a farm animal (draft animal) until thousands of years later. Humans began domesticated first animals as early as 13,000 years ago (11,000 BC), presumably in the area of ​​the Fertile Crescent , first sheep , later cattle and goats . Such pets arrived on Cyprus 10,300 years ago. The pig was probably domesticated in Asia around 11,000 years ago.

The first draft animal was the castrated bull 7,500 years ago. Donkeys and horses (in the Kazakh steppe) came later as pack animals , then as draft animals and finally as mounts. At the same time, the dromedary was the first type of camel to be used. Original characteristics of the horse were preserved in the Caspian pony. However, studies on the mitochondrial DNA of the animals did not reveal any common breeding strain. After the Ice Age, the horse remained as a "residual population" in isolated areas (e.g. Iberian horses). A crossbreeding of such residual wild populations is assumed to explain this picture. This is a form of post-domestication that began in 3500 BC. In north-eastern Europe and from 1500 BC Ch. Can also be detected in Western Europe (Shetland pony).

In recent prehistory, llama and guinea pigs were domesticated on the American continent and reindeer in Russia for meat production . In the recent time, the domestication of various laboratory and pets such as falling hamsters and color mouse .

Presumed chronology and sources

The chronological classification of many domestication results has not yet been clearly clarified. Some domestications occurred several times (multicentric), therefore several times or several areas are often given:

animal Wild animal years ago place swell
( Canis lupus familiaris )
wolf 30000 probably multicentric:
Europe, Africa, Asia

According to the traditional view in the last Ice Age, min. 14,000 years ago; most likely domesticated more than 30,000 years ago

( Ovis orientalis aries )
Mouflon 11000 Western Asia: Northwest Iran and Anatolia

( Sus scrofa domestica )
wild boar 11000 multicentric: Middle East, China

( Capra aegagrus hircus )
Wild goat (bezoar goat ) 11000 West Asia: Iran
( Bos primigenius taurus )
Aurochs 10,000 middle East
( Felis silvestris catus )
Black cat 9500 Levante, Cyprus
( Bos indicus )
Asiatic aurochs ( Bos primigenius namadicus ) 8000 Pakistan
( Gallus gallus domesticus )
Bankiva chicken 8000 South East Asia Insecure dating of soil layers with bones, domestication possibly thousands of years later and in several places
Guinea pig
( Cavia porcellus )
Real guinea pigs 7000 Peru
( Equus asinus asinus )
African donkey 7000 Northeast Africa
Water buffalo
( Bubalus bubalis )
Water buffalo ( Bubalus arnee ) 6300 West india Swamp buffalo presumably independent in southern China / northern Thailand about 3600 years ago
( Vicugna pacos )
Vicuna 6000 Peru .
( Equus ferus caballus )
Wild horse 5000-6000 Kazakh / Ukrainian steppe
Banteng ( Bos javanicus ) 5500 Indonesia Zebu was crossed into most races (hybrid)
( Lama glama )
Guanaco 5000 Northern Chile / Northwest Argentina
( Anser anser domesticus )
Greylag goose 5000 Egypt Most Chinese breeds come from the Swan Goose Anser cygnoides from
Silk moth
( Bombyx mori )
Bombyx mandarina 5000 China . About 400 years ago, a second species of silk moth ( Chinese oak silk moth ) domesticated in China
Ren animal
( Rangifer tarandus )
reindeer 5000 Russia independent in Scandinavia by the Sami
( Camelus bactrianus )
Wild camel 5000 Mongolia or Northern China
Yak ( Bos grunniens ) yak 5000 Tibet / Qinghai . According to genome analyzes, 10,000 years are also possible
Domestic pigeon
( Columba livia forma domestica )
Rock dove 4500 Middle East . Possibly much earlier, but definitive evidence is missing.
Breeding carp including koi carp 4000 China . Europe possibly independent 2000 years ago. Koi around 1200 years old, China.
( Anas platyrhynchos domesticus )
Mallard 3000 China . In Europe: high / late Middle Ages, presumably independent
( Camelus dromedarius )
Wild dromedary (extinct) 3000 South arabia
( Mustela putorius furo )
Polecats 2500 Egypt
Turkey or domestic turkey ( Meleagris gallopavo forma domestica ) Turkey
( Meleagris gallopavo )
2200 Mexico . Somewhat younger, second domestication center in the American Southwest
( Carassius auratus auratus )
Gable / crucian carp 1000 China
( Oryctolagus cuniculus )
Wild rabbit 500 France

Changes in characteristics through domestication

Domestication is usually associated with a number of typical changes in characteristics compared to the wild form. Even Hermann von Nathusius examined her example on Schweineschadel (1864). The domestication effects include both anatomical changes and changed behavior.

Outward appearance

  • Training of breeds with sometimes serious differences in appearance (for example the dog breeds derived from the wolf ):
  • Reduction of the fur (for example in domestic pigs):
  • Reduction of the teeth and horns
  • Appearance of lop ears
  • Steeper forehead
  • Decrease in brain mass by up to 34 percent, decrease in furrowing , especially in the areas of the brain that are important for processing sensory impressions
  • Reductions in the digestive tract
  • Reinforcement of properties useful for humans (e.g. milk yield in cattle)


  • Reduced aggressiveness
  • Less well developed escape and defense behavior
  • Increased rate of reproduction, sometimes up to the complete abandonment of seasonality of reproduction
  • Less pronounced brood care behavior

Since such effects can sometimes also be observed in humans (e.g. in comparison to Neanderthals ), some biologists (including Konrad Lorenz ) also speak of the "depletion" of humans in the course of their development, others of "self-domestication". Many of these traits are retained youth traits. One speaks here of neoteny .

Transferred word meaning

The words domesticate and domestication can also be used transposed, e.g. B. “domesticate wild ideas”, comparable to words like tame or curb . In domestication , this transferred use is not common.

See also


  • Helmut Hemmer: Neumühle-Riswicker deer . First scheduled breeding of a new form of livestock. In: Klaus Rehfeld (Ed.): Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau . 58th year, no. 5 . Scientific publishing company, 2005, ISSN  0028-1050 , p. 255-261 . (Breeding of a farm animal form from fallow deer that shows all the characteristics of domestication in just a few generations. Behavioral characteristics were coupled with easily comprehensible fur characteristics.)
  • Lyudmila N. Trut: Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment . American Scientist 1999; 87, pp. 160-169. (Decades of attempts in Siberia to breed domestic animals from silver foxes with the trait “friendly to people”.) PDF
  • Daniel Zohary, Maria Hopf: Domestication of Plants in the Old World. The Origin and Spread of Cultivated Plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley . (Oxford Science Publications.) Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.
  • Daniel Zohary: Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Cultivated Plants in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin 2000

Web links

Wiktionary: Domestication  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

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