• Domestication is the process of adapting wild plants and animals for human use. Domestic species are raised for food, work, clothing, medicine, and many other uses. Domesticated plants and animals must be raised and cared for by humans. Domesticated species are not wild.

    Plant Domestication

    People first domesticated plants about 10,000 years ago, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia (which includes the modern countries of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria). People collected and planted the seeds of wild plants. They made sure the plants had as much water as they needed to grow, and planted them in areas with the right amount of sun. Weeks or months later, when the plants blossomed, people harvested the food crops.

    The first domesticated plants in Mesopotamia were wheat, barley, lentils, and types of peas. People in other parts of the world, including eastern Asia, parts of Africa, and parts of North and South America, also domesticated plants. Other plants that were cultivated by early civilizations included rice (in Asia) and potatoes (in South America).

    Plants have not only been domesticated for food. Cotton plants were domesticated for fiber, which is used in cloth. Some flowers, such as tulips, were domesticated for ornamental, or decorative, reasons.

    Animal Domestication

    About the same time they domesticated plants, people in Mesopotamia began to tame animals for meat, milk, and hides. Hides, or the skins of animals, were used for clothing, storage, and to build tent shelters.

    Goats were probably the first animals to be domesticated, followed closely by sheep. In Southeast Asia, chickens also were domesticated about 10,000 years ago. Later, people began domesticating larger animals, such as oxen or horses, for plowing and transportation. These are known as beasts of burden.

    Domesticating animals can be difficult work. The easiest animals to domesticate are herbivores that graze on vegetation, because they are easiest to feed: They do not need humans to kill other animals to feed them, or to grow special crops. Cows, for instance, are easily domesticated. Herbivores that eat grains are more difficult to domesticate than herbivores that graze because grains are valuable and also need to be domesticated. Chickens are herbivores that eat seeds and grain.

    Some animals domesticated for one purpose no longer serve that purpose. Some dogs were domesticated to assist people in hunting, for instance. There are hundreds of domestic dog species today. Many of them are still excellent hunters, but most are pets.

    Throughout history, people have bred domesticated animals to promote certain traits. Domestic animals are chosen for their ability to breed in captivity and for their calm temperament. Their ability to resist disease and survive in difficult climates is also valuable.

    Over time, these traits make domestic animals different from their wild ancestors. Dogs were probably domesticated from gray wolves. Today, dogs are a distinct species from gray wolves.

    Domesticated animals can look very different from their wild ancestors. For example, early wild chickens weighed about two pounds. But over thousands of years of domestication, they have been bred to be larger. Larger chickens yield more meat. Today, domestic chickens weigh as much as 17 pounds. Wild chickens only hatched a small number of eggs once a year, while domestic chickens commonly lay 200 or more eggs each year.

    Effects on Humans

    Domesticating plants marked a major turning point for humans: the beginning of an agricultural way of life and more permanent civilizations. Humans no longer had to wander to hunt animals and gather plants for their food supplies.

    Agriculture—the cultivating of domestic plants—allowed fewer people to provide more food. The stability that came with regular, predictable food production led to increased population density. People were able to do more than hunt for each day’s food—they could travel, trade, and communicate. The world's first villages and cities were built near fields of domesticated plants.

    Plant domestication also led to advances in tool production. The earliest farming tools were hand tools made from stone. People later developed metal farming tools, and eventually used plows pulled by domesticated animals to work fields.

    Only domesticated animals wear hats.

    Wild Horses
    The process of domestication continues. Cowboys and other horse experts train horses. Sometimes, this is called "breaking" a horse. Training a horse to allow a saddle and rider requires an enormous amount of physical work, training, and patience. Horses that are born on ranches or in stables still need to be trained, although training a young horse is easier than domesticating a horse caught in the wild.

    Dogs and Wolves
    Though today's dogs were likely domesticated from gray wolves, they are now a distinct species. Dogs' scientific name is canis lupus familiaris, while the scientific name for gray wolves is canis lupus.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adapt Verb

    to adjust to new surroundings or a new situation.

    agriculture Noun

    the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

    Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture
    ancestor Noun

    organism from whom one is descended.

    animal Noun

    organisms that have a well-defined shape and limited growth, can move voluntarily, acquire food and digest it internally, and can respond rapidly to stimuli.

    barley Noun

    grass cultivated as a grain.

    beast of burden Noun

    animal used for carrying or pulling heavy loads.

    break Verb

    to tame a horse, or make it comfortable with a saddle and rider.

    breed Verb

    to produce offspring.

    chicken Noun

    domestic bird cultivated for meat, eggs, and feathers.

    city Noun

    large settlement with a high population density.

    civilization Noun

    complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.

    Encyclopedic Entry: civilization
    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    communicate Verb

    to exchange knowledge, thoughts, or feelings.

    cotton Noun

    cloth made from fibers of the cotton plant.

    cow Noun

    large, domesticated mammal used for milk and meat.

    cowboy Noun

    person who herds cattle on a ranch, usually on a horse.

    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    dog Noun

    domestic animal related to the wolf.

    domestication Noun

    the process of adapting wild plants or animals for human use.

    Encyclopedic Entry: domestication
    enormous Adjective

    very large.

    fiber Noun

    long, thin, threadlike material produced by plants that aids digestive motion when consumed.

    goat Noun

    hoofed mammal domesticated for its milk, coat, and flesh.

    grain Noun

    harvested seed of such grasses as wheat, oats, and rice.

    Encyclopedic Entry: grain
    graze Verb

    to feed on grass, usually over a wide pasture.

    grey wolf Noun

    mammal related to the dog.

    harvest Noun

    the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.

    herbivore Noun

    organism that eats mainly plants and other producers.

    Encyclopedic Entry: herbivore
    hide Noun

    leather skin of an animal.

    horse Noun

    type of domesticated mammal used for riding and hauling.

    hunt Verb

    to pursue and kill an animal, usually for food.

    lentil Noun

    plant with small, flat seeds, native to Asia.

    Mesopotamia Noun

    ancient region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, today lying mostly in Iraq.

    metal Noun

    category of elements that are usually solid and shiny at room temperature.

    ornamental Adjective

    decorative or presented for beauty.

    patience Noun

    ability to deal with pain, misfortune, or annoyance without complaint.

    pea Noun

    plant with a pod bearing small, round seeds.

    permanent Adjective

    constant or lasting forever.

    plant Noun

    organism that produces its own food through photosynthesis and whose cells have walls.

    plow noun, verb

    tool used for cutting, lifting, and turning the soil in preparation for planting.

    population density Noun

    the number of people living in a set area, such as a square mile.

    potato Noun

    plant native to the Americas.

    predictable Adjective

    regular or able to be forecasted.

    process Noun

    natural or human actions that create and change the Earths features.

    ranch Noun

    large farm on which livestock are raised.

    resist Verb

    to oppose or confront.

    rice Noun

    grass cultivated for its seeds.

    saddle Noun

    seat for a rider on a horse.

    seed Noun

    part of a plant from which a new plant grows.

    sheep Noun

    type of mammal with thick, strong wool used for cloth.

    shelter Noun

    structure that protects people or other organisms from weather and other dangers.

    stable Adjective

    steady and reliable.

    stable Noun

    building where horses or other animals are kept.

    storage Noun

    space for keeping materials for use at a later time.

    tame Verb

    to domesticate or make useful for humans.

    temperament Noun

    traits or personality of an individual.

    tool Noun

    instrument used to help in the performance of a task.

    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

    trait Noun

    characteristic or aspect.

    transportation Noun

    movement of people or goods from one place to another.

    travel Noun

    movement from one place to another.

    tulip Noun

    colorful, cup-shaped flower native to Asia.

    village Noun

    small human settlement usually found in a rural setting.

    Encyclopedic Entry: village
    wheat Noun

    most widely grown cereal in the world.

    wild Adjective

    living in nature, not tame.