Before the rise of agriculture, humans were primarily hunter-gatherers. We would move around in search for food and did not remain in one place for too long. However, as population density and societal complexity increased, humans adapted agriculture as its method of getting food. However this shift from hunter-gatherers to agriculture would not have been possible without the domestication of plants and animals. Domestication of plants and animals led to more food for human society and also allowed us settle down in one place. But what kind of effect did domestication of animals have on humans besides more food?
According to the Genographic Project by National Geographic, the domestication of animals such as cattle and sheep allowed human populations in Europe to turn from lactose intolerant to lactose tolerant. The prehistoric populations of humans in Europe were lactose intolerant and weren’t able to drink raw milk.
The rise of cattle and sheep as domesticated animals originated in the Fertile Crescent (modern day Turkey, Iran and Iraq) about 10,000 to 13,000 years ago (Genographic 2016). As human populations over many years migrated west into Europe they brought their animals with them. As they arrived to Europe, they spread the idea of farming and domestication. Over time, due to the proximity of cattle, sheep and farmers, the farmers eventually developed a mutation in their genes which allowed them to drink milk. Through natural selection the frequency of this mutation rose throughout all the human population in Europe and this resulted in the majority of the people being lactose tolerant (Genographic 2016). The article claims that due to the high frequency of milk drinkers, most of the population of Europe today is descended from cattle herders and farmers.
This article was interesting for the fact that it looks at other effects of domestication of animals than the usual ones. Usually, when you read about domestication and agriculture, it is typically stated how domestication of animals led to the epidemic diseases in human populations and how humans changed the “wild” nature of the domesticated animals. However this topic was something different and fresh. It is still fascinating to learn how animals changed human nature and by learning that we can speculate how humans and domesticated animals will evolve together in the future.
“The Development of Agriculture.” Genographic Project. National Geographic Society, 2016. Web. 30 Jan. 2016. <https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/development-of-agriculture/>.