Book Review

JULIET CLUTTON-BROCK. Animals as domesticates: a world view through history. xii+189 pages, 64 illustrations. 2012. East Lansing (MI): Michigan State University Press; 978-1-61186-028-3 hardback $44.95; 978-1-61186-064-1 paperback.

Review by Terry O'Connor
Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK

O'Connor image

This is the first volume to be published in the series The Animal Turn, edited by Linda Kalof. The series aims to document the full range of human-animal relations and interactions now and in the past, and our domesticated livestock and companions are an appropriate place to start. After all, as James Serpell points out in his Foreword, livestock constitute an estimated 65 per cent by weight of all terrestrial vertebrates. Juliet Clutton-Brock is an internationally-renowned researcher and author on the subject: her book gets the series off to a fine start.

The structure of the book is straightforward and clear. After an Introduction, successive chapters discuss the emergence of sedentism amongst Eurasian peoples, and its connection with the emergence of domesticatory relationships. Having put people and livestock together, Clutton-Brock then examines those relationships in more detail, essentially by geographical region. Almost inevitably, 'Classical Greece and Rome' gets as much space as 'The Americas', reflecting the scale of available evidence rather than that of geography or chronology. A second edition in ten years' time will be able to remedy that. Within each of those chapters, some sub-sections deal with particular taxa, with the consequence that, for example, dromedaries feature both in Ancient Israel (p. 63) and in Sub-Saharan Africa (p. 115), and others are short essays on, for instance, Xenophon on horsemanship (pp. 76–77). Faced with the difficult choice of whether to structure the book chronologically, or by species, or by region, Clutton-Brock has arrived at a compromise that works rather well in providing a coherent and readable flow-through whilst remaining comprehensive enough to act as a textbook.

Animals as domesticates subjects its topic to the Five Ws of journalism: who, what, where, when and why. The regional chapters deal with the first four quite thoroughly. Taken together, they chart the evolution and dispersal of widespread domesticates such as cattle and pigs, bringing to bear whatever iconographic, osteological or, to a lesser extent, biomolecular evidence as may be available. There is nothing particularly new or surprising in these accounts. However, as the research literature focuses ever more closely on the specific population genetics or morphometry of this or that species, a global overview from such an experienced author is welcome, especially from one who can work with the full range of evidence. Alongside the global livestock, species particular to different regions are discussed, such as turkey, New Guinea Singing Dog and goldfish. Such diversity means that the treatment for some species is distinctly concise. Guinea pigs, for example, are given less than a page (p. 129), with no mention of the fascinating mummified examples from Chincha and El Yaral in prehispanic Peru. For all that, Clutton-Brock conveys more information per kiloword than most authors.

As to the fifth W—why domestication?—discussion early in the book tackles this rather contentious topic. Although the biological species concept is given prominence, presenting domestication as a form of speciation consequent upon human activities, Clutton-Brock rightly acknowledges that animals were (are?) active in the process: "A domestic animal is a cultural artefact of human society, but it also has its own culture..." (p. 6). The relationship between taming of individual animals and domestication of animal populations is reviewed. Clutton-Brock makes an interesting link between Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's argument that humans show an instinct for nurture and domination, and Galton's views on the connection between nurturing and domestication, before going on to outline the views of other key authors such as Ingold and Budiansky. Colleagues in search of a definitive statement on the 'why' of domestication may find this part of the text too brief, and more descriptive than critical. In the author's (and Series Editor's) defence, to have done more would have unbalanced the book as a whole.

Who is the book for? It will be welcomed by archaeologists and historians who need a well-informed overview of the material evidence and a digest of the associated theoretical debates. The book is well-referenced, and so will be a valuable text for undergraduates in fields such as archaeology and human-animal studies. Non-specialist readers will enjoy the book as a sweeping narrative, a text that manages to be accessible and authoritative. One might wish that some of the illustrations were larger (e.g. fig. 55, p. 113), or clearer (e.g. jpeg artefacts on figs. 3 & 54) or in colour (e.g. figs. 19, 27), and friends of the Harvard System will have to come to terms with endnote references. These are small matters, however, and Animals as domesticates is a useful and welcome addition to the literature on ourselves and our friends and neighbours.