Mittwoch, 29. Oktober 2008

long summer 3

Another fascinating episode explored in Brian Fagan's book is the gradual emergence of animal husbandry. The practice appears to have developed entirely independently of floral cultivation, and even has an element of the accidental. It can at least be said to be the product of gradual adaption and acclimatisation.

One area where this has been well researched is the Nile Valley, where nomadic tribes began migrating alongside herds of aurochs to follow seasonal water and shelter. The ancient ancestors of the modern ox and cow were huge, unpredictable and temperemental beasts, aggresive towards any animals that hid behind long grass, stalked and sneaked, or behaved otherwise suspiscously. However it appears, much like there modern day counterparts, they were dumb and guilelessly trusting. If humans ambled inconspicously alongside them, as many other herbivores would have done in the long treks across the savannah, they could get close enough to fire a well aimed arrow to the neck. Over time humans learned to kill selectively, keeping child bearing and milk producing females for longer, killing meaty, angry young bulls before they became a threat. Eventually it appears they took control of natural selection, even influencing features such as hide colour and horn shape, and as they culled the wilder and more influential beasts, the herd gradually looked to humans for leadership and following.

The archeologists Fiona Marshall and Elisabeth Hildebrand believe cattle were domesticated somewhere in the eastern Sahara by about 7000BC, perhaps by hunter-gatherer bands based in desert playa basins, where foods attracted plenty of game. Taming the aurochs ensured a much more predictable food supply, stored on the readily available hoof. We also know that wild cattle had major ritual significance long before they were tamed: burials accompanied by cattle horns became important in the region before 10000BC.

Similar, but independant events were taking place in the fertile crescent. Here the animals of choice were ancient goats that roamed the grasslands and hills of the Levant. Rather than following herds across great distances in search of water, the more hospitable environments of South West Asia led early settlers to observe animal migration, and then erect pens to contain certain herds. Once spatially restricted, it was simply a neolithic version of shooting fish in a barrel. Just as in the Nile Valley, archeological remains show that a disproportionate number of young males and old females were culled, again showing a selective cultivation that would have brought noticable, and probably even regional, changes to the species in a few generations.

From early co-habitation to mechanised management and genetic manipulation. Today we talk about the meat industry and have no real awareness of the process involved from birth of livestock to food on fork. The UN says if we stopped eating so much meat, we could halt global climate change and third world famine. Tomorrow some envision meat production in laboratory conditions, cutting out the heavy burdens on space and resource. In the meantime, in a sign of how much has changed since we wandered amongst aurochs, this month's Spiegel reports on developments in oceanic fishing: 'Ferngesteuerte Fische', remote control fish. Fish farms are now being driven around the ocean in what resemble floating bucky-domes, thus preventing infection through stagnant water. Other fish are being trained to respond to particular tones with the promise of eadible rewards, before being sent to roam the ocean freely to cut out the huge cost of feeding farmed fish. When fat and tasty they are tricked back in to the net with the now cerebrally embedded radio signal. It's quite disturbing to realise that, as well as there being no piece of land left which isn't directly managed or deliberately left 'wild', it appears there are no animals left which aren't told where to go and what to do.
N Teenagers draw maps of their immediate environment. They show a striking similarity to primitive mind maps and other early forms of spatial referencing.
N With the opening sentence "who needs psychedelic drugs", New Scientist reports on the use of magnetic fields to influence visual stimulation in blind people. I've believed for a while now that all perception is interlinked, and wager that this is the early form of some kind of proof.

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