Paleo-Purists will palpitate, and the science-hounds will howl for hard evidence. Well – if there was hard evidence for or against everything we all choose to question, there would be no need to ever postulate, would there?
Here is my case for the claim that we have, in fact, had dairy products from goats stretching far back into our paleolithic roots.
In this 3 part discussion I will first expound on the shortcomings of the conventional scientific method as pertinent to domestication theory. Science repeatedly chases and/or builds sand castles on un-proven theories only to find, at some later point, that they were a poor basis for sometimes years of research and studies. In part 2, I then talk about how goat/human interactions could well be many tens of thousands of years older than currently speculated as indicated by unanswered genetic data that profiles a very different possible time frame for more intimate goat/human association. I investigate the concept of domestication – what exactly is it both in paleolithic terms and modern terms, and finally in part 3, I explore how the nutritional evidence, in a variety of ways, indicates many human populations have had a long association with the consumption of goat milk and goat milk dairy products, especially in relation to cow milk consumption – cow dairy almost certainly being a more recent and probably a neolithic nutritional adjunct.
Conventional Domestication Theory and Its Shortfalls
According to conventional anthropological theory, goats have been mingling with humans as “domesticated” animals for about 10,000 years in places like Iran, India, Turkey and Pakistan. Currently accepted dating of the forming relationships between humans and goats is actually based on 50 year old studies and methods used to date the domestication of goats and sheep in these regions (Braidwood and Howe, 1960). Although I am not prepared to completely challenge their applied methods, I will simply cast my aspersions by questioning that methodology and the subsequent un-proven adoption of it as a kind of standard. The adoption of un-proven assumptions, as logical and well-argued as they may be, as a basis for subsequent conclusive proofs is one of the repeated shortcomings of the flow of modern scientific research. We are often discovering proofs, along with huge amounts of subsequent conclusions, have been erroneously based on unverified established methods that are themselves, theoretical.
Other “Scientific” Assumptions Gone Astray
Numerous glaring cases come immediately to mind. For example, the assumed-correct ideas about cholesterol/saturated fat and heart disease proposed by Ancel Keys and the 50+ years of research and trials that were interpreted to support his now-highly-suspect assertions. A recent deconstruction of “The China Study” by rising internet nutritional-analyst Denise Minger, has convincingly picked apart the author Dr. Colin Campbell’s assertions regarding animal products causing heart disease. Dr. Campbells assertions are based on conjecture about animal fat and protein consumption that is increasingly under scrutiny. Also consider the now (finally!) officially questioned safety of amalgam-mercury fillings by the FDA, a 150+ year ill-fated human experiment. Scientific research clearly can be led far astray by the strong, vocal opinions of people in prominent positions, effectively stifling real, objective progress in a specific discipline for decades or even centuries. An excellent paper (in a peer-review med journal) talks about the many reasons why published research findings are usually false.
How Is Domestication Determined by Conventional Methods?
The questionable science being employed to establish the date of goat domestication is the use of defined “markers”, goat characteristics and traits assumed (yes, assumed) to be connected to and dependent on the action of domestication. Things used as markers include reduction in animal size vs. wild, as well as genetically driven changes in body physiology in response to assumed domestication pressures exerted by the specific needs of the herders/breeders keeping the animals under their husbandry. The identifying of these factors is calculated speculation – not necessarily unreasonable, but also not by any means adequate to explain all possibilities (and time frames) of human/goat associations. It is, as I said, speculative.
Nothing so broad and dynamic as the relationship of a multitude of diverse human populations to their environment over 10′s of thousands of years can be so broadly generalized from an artificial set of narrowly-defined parameters. This is especially significant in the case of goats as these creatures display much of the same intellectual and “personality” capabilities that have made dogs an integral companion of humans/human ancestors for many tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of years. The domestication of the wolf is also contentious as studied genetic changes indicate that the wolf/dog separation was over 100,000 years ago, however, actual accepted evidence of dog domestication dates back only several tens of thousands of years, quite a discrepancy.
Certain investigators have “proposed that such-and-such could be used to indicate domesticated changes in body structures or population distributions” and then the research goes on from there. Simply put, there is no way, short of a time machine, to really nail down what would indicate, in a domestic breed, exactly when and especially exactly why these markers/changes have taken place in their species. The possible array of explanations for a multitude of factors needs to be considered in creating a legitimately reasonable theory for human/goat association, not just an un-proven and perhaps even irrelevant set of assumed parameters.
Faulty Assumptions Leading to Faulty Conclusions
An excellent example of this possibly-faulty reasoning is that reduction in body size has been used as a “marker” for goat domestication that can be genetically tracked to the 10k years ago domestication theory. Confoundingly, gazelles have also experienced a marked reduction in overall body size for their species in similar time frames and gazelles have never been domesticated (Zeder, 2006). I would postulate that other pressures and explanations, such as increasing human population hunting pressures, may well reduce overall species stature as the genetically-larger animals would be the prized game and heavy hunting of that species would cull many of the larger genes out of the gene pool. After all, conventional thinking has no problem speculating that we hunted the grand Mammoth species to extinction, why would not humans as a hunting group, be able to alter the trajectory of a species’ characteristics by substantial hunting pressures? A theory too, and no better or worse than attempting to squeeze ill-fitting evidence and data into conventionally accepted fertile crescent domestication theory.
Could not the increasingly sedentary lifestyle – associated with the agricultural revolution in the fertile crescent – be, in itself, the reason that the breeding needs then applied to already-kept goats changes their physiology? There is simply no hard evidence to determine that goats were not already intimately associated (tamed) with humans before the claimed evidence of “domestication”. The needs arising from goats kept by sedentary populations of humans would undoubtedly be significantly different than the needs of a meandering HG (hunter-gatherer) group with dogs and goats tagging along. The very term “domestication” directly implies a “domicile” or stationary home. The definition is self-limiting as mobile, nomadic HGs would have no such stationary home and therefore nothing they would have done would have been, by definition, “domestic”.
Can Goats travel with Wandering Nomadic Hunter-Gatherers?
While contemplating the above, I started wondering what groups of human populations in our modern day are still nomadic/pastoralists? Surprisingly, there are quite a few. Nomads and pastoralists still roam, scattered in the yet-remote regions on the planet. Most are becoming more restricted in their nomadic wanderings as civilization is increasingly encroaching on their traditional territories. Nevertheless, many still live closely to their old ways. Nomadic/pastoralist people include the Norwegian “Lapp” people who herd reindeer and keep goats, Bedouins of Arabic countries who keep camels and goats, Tibetian nomads who keep yaks and goats, the Kuchi people of Afganistan who keep sheep and goats, the Sarıkeçili tribe of Turkey who keep and breed mainly goats, the Hmong of Loas who keep buffalo, sheep and goats, European Gypsies who keep horses, donkeys and goats, and many, many more. In fact, it is hard to find an example of a nomadic or pastoralist population that still exists that does not keep goats with goat products – cheese, milk, and meat – being an integral part of their overall nutrition. Most, if not all of these people are definitely not decedents of fertile crescent agriculturalists. Why, over several hundred thousand years of evolution, would upright walking, increasingly intelligent human ancestors not be capable of husbanding animals while living a nomadic life? We have ample and increasing evidence that paleolithic people engaged in a full spectrum of increasingly advanced human behaviors. Modern nomadic and pastoralist groups have no special skills, conditions or tools that our paleolithic ancestors (certainly the upper paleolithic people) would not have had in regards to keeping goats and other manageable beneficial animals.
Finally in this vein: How fast would these genetic markers said to indicate “domestication” take to appear? How long prior to the specific fertile crescent herding needs/pressures would it take for the wild species to show these so called signs of domestication? And more significantly, would the capturing, taming and keeping of goats even necessitate the species to genetically modify itself if no such pressure was exerted on them by their human HG keepers? I think not. The assumptions upon which the dating of domestication is based is clearly limited and self-serving to fit the conventional theories regarding the 10,000 year old domestication thinking already in place.
I understand that conjecture is, for good reason, frowned upon under our current scientific paradigm, but what about these initial assumptions and the very essence of “domestication” itself? Can we not, with equal validity, start with the assumption that domestication was not so uniformly intent on a few ill-defined variables and also not a phenomenon specifically related to the settling of humans as agriculturalists? The emergence of these change “markers” used to theorize a neolithic domestication of animals could well be more a result of the changes of human habits – humans that had already long kept goats as companions and nutritional sources. There are many more indications that this could be the case.
The Definition of “Domestication”
and a Significant Genetic Goat Study at Odds with Itself.
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