How Animal Domestication Works

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Now We're Going Places: Domestication of Transportation Animals

The camel replaced the wheel as the primary means of transportation for a long time in certain areas of the world.
The camel replaced the wheel as the primary means of transportation for a long time in certain areas of the world.
Pankaj Shah/ Gulfimages Collection/Getty Images

Before the invention of the steam engine, the automobile, and the airplane, there was the horse-drawn carriage. And although this may seem primitive in comparison to modern transportation, keep in mind that animals allowed for some of the greatest advancements of civilization for millennia through migration and trade. Here are some of the most significant animals that allowed for human transportation:

  • Horses: Soil tests have revealed remains of high concentrations of horse manure near ancient settlements to show evidence for domesticated horses 5,600 years ago [source: Lovett]. Also, DNA evidence suggests that today's domesticated horses have origins in many lands and from many different wild herds [source: Briggs]. Although humans probably first used horses for meat and milk, horses became accustomed to pulling carts and humans riding them. Horses allowed humans to go long distances and to travel quickly. Arguably no other animal has contributed as much to human transportation. Eventually, ancient Romans even used them in chariot races. Early horses once lived and then went extinct in North America, only to be reintroduced to the land by the Spanish about 9,000 years later.
  • Donkeys: Egyptians tamed donkeys at about the same time horses became domesticated. Although they've fallen out of favor since (evidenced by the pejorative term "ass"), ancient Egyptians revered donkeys. Archeologists have discovered some donkeys who were distinguished with special burial sites, suggesting that the Egyptians considered them highly important and respectable animals [source: Chang].
  • Camels: Because Bactrian and Arabian camels can carry large loads and do well with little water, people in desert areas benefitted greatly from domesticating camels. In fact, although people usually associate camels with hot areas, the Bactrian camel has a thick, shaggy coat that even allows it to withstand cold climates. Although at first the domesticated camel was only used for hair, meat and milk, people eventually used the camel for transporting heavy loads over long distances. When this practice came around, it completely replaced the wheel as a transportation tool for a significant period of time in certain areas [source: Meri].

Although livestock and transportation animals provided much-needed labor and helped humans forge civilization, we shouldn't forget about little guys. Next, we'll learn how certain rodents, insects and other animals offered their own contributions through domestication.