The social, economic and technological impact of the early use of donkeys and cattle for traction and transport: insights from recent African ethnography
In archaeological literature relating to early use of working animals, debate on equids in particular often focuses on their domestication and hybridisation. There has been some academic discussion of the consequences of the introduction of deep (ox) ploughing, but the treatment often seems influenced by Western European mediaeval models of semi-industrialised temperate-zone clay agriculture. The current body of archaeological and textual literature on this crucial period of prehistory lacks a holistic assessment of the mechanics and logistics of the ‘animal industry’, including discussion of the social implications of the shift from human to animal motive power with the resulting important repercussions for complex societies.
My aim in my thesis is to analyse the growing body of very recent studies on the current use of working cattle and donkeys, in Africa in particular. Usage is increasing significantly in many countries, and in some regions there has been a direct transfer from hoe agriculture and human porterage to use of working animals, with the opportunity (with careful caveats) to study uptake processes and problems and to draw tentative interpretations relating to working animal use in the centres of early adoption such as the Ancient Near East. The African material provides a potentially useful window onto the practicalities of breeding, feeding, harnessing and training working animals, and particularly onto the differing but complementary advantages of oxen versus donkeys.
In addition there is a good quantity of published commentary on the biological capabilities and constraints of donkeys and cattle in relation to pack and traction, including work capacity, food and water needs/ preferences, and behavioural propensities for taming and for work. This material can provide pointers to the physiological and ecological irreducibles which can be applied to use of working animals in antiquity.
- BA (Jt Hons), French/ English literature, University of Exeter, 1975
- MA, Archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, UCL, 2008 (Winner of University of London Petrie Prize 2008)
(2010) Administrators’ bread: an experiment-based reassessment of the functional and cultural role of the Uruk bevel-rim bowl. Antiquity 84: 351–362. (Article awarded the 2011 Ben Cullen prize, given to the runner-up for the best piece published by Antiquity in the past year)
Speaker at UCL Animals as Material Culture seminar 2010
Speaker at BANEA conference 2009
Speaker at UCL Attitudes to Animals seminar 2007