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Crying Wolf (Life Sciences)
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Mick Harper
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Dogs in the Wild (BBC-1) is engrossing but confusing. Chris Packham tells us there are foxes, wolves and dogs in the mix but the dogs seem especially to be a mixed bag. Here, for example, are a couple of bush dogs


who don't strike me as very doggy. What with the webbed feet and all. Why are the wolves and foxes so wolfish and foxy respectively but not the dogs? We must watch on, in case Saint Chris notices and hazards an explanation. After all, our pet dogs are not exactly set in stone.
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Mick Harper
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Some further support for Megalithic Empire here https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/cat-migration-europe/

Since then, major advances in paleogenetic analysis have helped illuminate the deep past of one of mankind’s favorite pets. In the last two decades, it has been established that the Near Eastern wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) is the common ancestor of all domesticated cats, and that they were first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago.

That's what they've found. When it actually was can maybe be put back a few more thousand years. Then the usual folderol

It also could be said that cats domesticated themselves; they were attracted to the rodents that feasted off the harvests of the earliest farmers. They chose us, not the other way around. In turn, those early farmers appreciated this welcome form of pest control. So, unlike dogs — which were domesticated earlier, initially for hunting — cats weren’t bred for various specific purposes. They arrived as a “ready-made” symbiotic species, so to speak.

Did they? I honestly thought that pussy cats aren't found in the wild. I also thought we have no records of wild animals domesticating themselves, so you live and learn.
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Mick Harper
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The domestication of the grape gets some good treatment here https://medium.com/gardening-birding-and-outdoor-adventure/grapes-were-probably-the-first-fruit-domesticated-by-humans-bbd60a1a8575 You can tell that proper scientists have got involved, rather than archaeologists et al. This para caught my eye

“It was one of the first globally traded goods”, added a co-author of the study, plant biologist Peter Nick, a professor of botany at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. “It’s justified to say that the domestication of grapevines was really one of the driving forces of civilization.”
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Mick Harper
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Some groovy stuff here https://www.sciencealert.com/wild-elephants-seem-to-have-been-domesticated-but-not-by-humans I'll try and break it down when I've got a moment.
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Mick Harper
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Wild Elephants Seem to Have Been Domesticated, But Not by Humans By MIKE MCRAE NATURE 23 September 2023

Over many thousands of years, a species of animal that shared a close relationship with wolves slowly morphed into something that loves to curl up in your lap, get belly rubs, and eat kibble three times a day. These changes in dogs weren't just behavioral. In fact, the changes in body plan – like shorter snouts, floppy ears, more expressive faces, less body hair, and prolonged infancy – are common to many domesticated animals.

Without concurring that dogs are domesticated wolves we do agree that many of these traits are signs of domestication. We would however put them under the general rubric of 'appealing to humans' since in Megalithic Empire we regard making pets out of wild animals to be a main driver.

An international team of researchers recently pointed out that similar features exist within populations of elephants, prompting the question of who or what might have domesticated them.

Since loads of elephants are already semi-domesticated we would probably not have gone further than 'humans'.

The answer the researchers propose sounds just as surprising: Elephants may have domesticated themselves.

We did toy with this idea ourselves but didn't get very far. Still we're theoretically up for new ideas, so fire away...
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Mick Harper
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On a fundamental level, domestication is the process of artificially selecting representatives from each generation of animal (or plant) that suit the best criteria for living among humans.

This is simply a back projection from Darwinist ideas. Nobody knows how domestication occurs. The only time it was undertaken in any quasi-scientific way, the Russians with farmed foxes, the results were inconclusive. That's why 'fundamental' has been popped in.

Number one on that list has to be 'play nice'. Nobody wants to wrestle a big, hairy mammal for its milk or risk their eyes for a morning fried egg.

This is bordering on a truism though 'play nice' is not necessarily number one on the list if you want, say, a guard dog.

While many common traits might not be intentionally selected for, some genes go hand-in-hand with those for a docile companion, giving many animals a more slender, less threatening look. Termed 'domestication syndrome', the collection of characteristics that go with calm, cute, and content animals might not help them in the wild, but it certainly makes them more suitable for human society.

More truisms.

Back in 2017, Duke University anthropologist Brian Hare took the concept of domestication syndrome a step further, speculating whether it might apply to us humans as well.

Not sure that speculating takes any concept of a syndrome very far, that's why a 'back in' has been popped in for 'all of of six years ago'.
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Mick Harper
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If we could pick which dogs, sheep, pigs, and cows should have babies based on their temperament and attraction, why couldn't we have done it to ourselves?

I thought we had but do go on.

Known as the Human Self-Domestication Hypothesis, it presumes our evolution was increasingly guided from the middle to late Paleolithic by a preference for less-aggressive, more pro-social partners.

Oh, right, I see what they've done here. When evolutionary ideas were first kicking around in the nineteenth century, the emphasis was on more-aggressive, more ... um ... inducted partners. But we live in more liberal times now.

Consequently, there was increased pressure on our ability to communicate, facilitating complex language skills.

The middle classes had come to the fore in the Palaeolithic as they had in the twentieth century.

Changes in how our brains function may have had an impact on our skull's size and shape, not all that dissimilar to how skulls have changed in domesticated animals.

The intelligentsia had acquired "shorter snouts, floppy ears, more expressive faces".
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Mick Harper
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We might not be the only primates to have experienced this preference for a more peaceful, expressive path over a violent existence. Hare identifies our close relative, the bonobo (Pan paniscus), as a candidate for self-domestication based on assertions of the species' lack of aggression compared with its other close relative, the chimpanzee.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the bonobo the least successful of all primate species?

Now African and Asian elephants are being nominated as two new examples of self-domestication, having arguably undergone similar selection processes as humans and bonobos.

No idea. I don't think anybody knows. But if elephants have gone all liberal on us, how is this different from any neo-Darwinian adaptation process?

The authors of this study supplied an extensive laundry list of similarities between the groups that serve as evidence of a shared domestication process. For example, in all three cases, the jaw and cranium have changed shape, with jaws shortening or skulls becoming less elongated, and teeth reducing in number.

Wait... we don't know that humans, bonobos and elephants have been domesticated, have been becoming less aggressive, so it seems a bit previous to use them as examples. Are you sure this is science, guys?
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Mick Harper
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Behaviorally, there's a propensity for peaceful interactions, with examples of aggression tending to be proactive rather than reactive. Infants in all species tend to engage in social and non-social play that often facilitates socializing and bonding. There is also significant evidence of 'alloparenting', where offspring are guided and cared for by adults who aren't their direct ancestors.

This is all so common in nature I am amazed that Nature is printing this. But now we get some science

The team conducted a review of hundreds of genes speculated to be involved in changes to embryonic tissues considered to be in part responsible for domestication, finding some evidence that evolution has favored at least a few dozen such sequences in elephants.

Speculated ... involved in... considered in part responsible... some evidence... a few dozen such sequences ... in a species that hasn't even been established as domesticated!

The examples provided may be simply cases of cherry-picking what fits. For example, other animals that have undergone domestication develop into breeds with floppy ears and curly tails.

The understatement of the year.
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Mick Harper
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The researchers argue "domesticated species do not usually show the full suite of features associated with domestication", as different blocks of traits can fragment and no longer undergo selection. Meaning elephants are less likely to lose the already evolved structure in their ears, given how useful they are for thermoregulation.

Pick the bones out of that.

To what degree the three species of elephants might or might not have taken the evolutionary road to pro-social, domestic 'bliss' depends mainly on whether the hypothesis itself makes for a good theory capable of explaining why certain social characteristics might be commonly found in diverse species.

We haven't been told there are three species of elephant but as for 'diverse species', the only ones mentioned in the article are wolves, dogs, sheep, pigs, cows, bonobos, chimpanzees and humans -- not what you'd call the widest gamut of animals on earth. But, hey, now dolphins (and unnamed others) can be added. Yup, it's the old bogus list:

If it does, we might find other animals on a continuum of domestication. Dolphins, perhaps, or various species of birds or rodents might have also undergone similar changes that favor degrees of social complexity over brawn and fury.

Blimey, liberal values are rampant in the Animal Kingdom. And we never knew...

Once seen as an exclusive virtue of humanity, the tendency to prioritize peaceful guidance, complex emotional expression, and a general love for one another might be an option open to many social animals. As with many traits that once defined our species, humans have simply taken domestication to the next level.

Megalithic Empire would have been slaughtered if we'd served up such garbage. /ends
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Mick Harper
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Radio Three has a daily 'Essay' in which somebody sounds off about something for fifteen minutes. A poet called Kenneth Steven was sounding off about various animals that have been introduced (or re-introduced) into Scotland. They are highly beguiling in their own right but the two I wish to draw your attention are these

Beavers https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001rr42 This is quite familiar stuff except he refers to 'evidence of a symbiotic relationship' between Man and Beaver in the long ago. As you may know, there is a highly speculative claim in Megalithic Empire that Man domesticated the Beaver and trained it to do major re-engineering projects. I wouldn't half knowing what evidence he is referring to.

Bison https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001rr6g This too is reasonably familiar stuff except the dude claimed that North American bison were imported into Britain in the nineteenth century as ornaments for gentry estates and still survive in protected enclosures in various parts of Britain to this day. Not only was this news to me but it appears to contradict the standard account that, when twentieth century Americans wanted to re-introduce the bison into National Parks, they had to import European bison from Poland and elsewhere. Anything on this would be most welcome.
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