Domestication processes and morphological change: Through the lens of the donkey and African pastoralism

Fiona Marshall, Lior Weissbrod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Little is known about the beginnings and spread of food production in the tropics, but recent research suggests that definitions that depend on morphological change may hamper recognition of early farming in these regions. The earliest form of food production in Africa developed in arid tropical grasslands. Animals were the earliest domesticates, and the mobility of early herders shaped the development of social and economic systems. Genetic data indicate that cattle were domesticated in North Africa and suggest domestication of two different African wild asses, in the Sahara and in the Horn. Cowpeas and pearl millet were domesticated several thousand years later, but some intensively used African plants have never undergone morphological change. Morphological, genetic, ethnoarchaeological, and behavioral research reveals relationships between management, animal behavior, selection, and domestication of the donkey. Donkeys eventually showed phenotypic and morphological changes distinctive of domestication, but the process was slow. This African research on domestication of the donkey and the development of pastoralism raises questions regarding how we conceptualize hunter-gatherer versus food-producer land use. It also suggests that we should focus more intently on the methods used to recognize management, agropastoral systems, and domestication events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S397-S413
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue numberSUPPL. 4
StatePublished - Oct 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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