Domestication of horses: a New York Times editorial

March 18, 2009 • 8:08 am

Today’s New York Times has an odd opinion piece which begins, correctly, with the recent discovery that horses were domesticated about a thousand years earlier than previously suspected, since findings of pottery containing traces of horse milk from 3500 B.C., as well as horse skeletons from Asia, suggest (see original paper in Science magazine) that the inhabitants of central Asia had modified the skeleton of wild horses through domestication, making it less robust, and also were using mare’s milk as food. Preumptive bit wear on the ancient horses’ teeth also suggest domestication. All well and good, and an excellent example of forensic archaeology. However, the Times goes on to say this:

This discovery pushes back the date for a hugely important technological change in human existence. But it’s also a reminder that domestication isn’t just the conquering of one species by another. It’s the willing collaboration between two species, a sharing of benefits. There is something in the equine nature — genetic or social — that allowed it to partner with humans, just as there was in the character of dogs.

Well, of course there was something in the nature of horses that enabled them (unlike many other wild animals) to be successfully domesticated. But what on earth suggests that the domestication was “willing” and a “collaboration”? What do the horses get out of it? Maybe some food, but to me it looks more like animal slavery–indeed “the conquering of one species by another.” Let’s not kid ourselves.

4 thoughts on “Domestication of horses: a New York Times editorial

  1. Well, the horses must have been part of the “willing collaboration” or else they would never have been able to learn how to make that pottery 5500 years ago 😉

    The article doesn’t say what decorations the horses used on the pottery though.

  2. Well what if we really want to kid ourselves, Jerry? Did you think about that? Slavery is such an ugly word and all that. 😛

  3. Well what if we really want to kid ourselves, Jerry? Did you think about that? Slavery is such an ugly word and all that. 😛
    Should write good post. Can’t wait to reading the next one!

  4. “willing collaboration”? WTF? I agree that was entirely a silly point to add to this otherwise interesting horse-tale. Animal domestication is a “willing collaboration” in much the same way the “moral majority” was neither.

    I suppose, once mankind moves beyond its dependence upon domesticated animals, we can all say “So long and thanks for all the meat” as we set loose the last of our cows and horses and chickens to once again live as wild animals. We will then give an emotional rendition of Born free knowing humanity “did-right” by those animal species.

    I am completely at peace with my own amoral philosophy whenever I eat a cheese burger, but lets not overdue it here. Domestication of animals is nothing if not a defining picture of Machiavellian behavior.

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