You may remember that I’ve recently read Sapiens and Guns, Germs and Steel over the past couple of years. Both of these books delve into the dawn of civilisation, and what motivated people to come together and start farming, therefore producing food surpluses big enough to support larger demographics of people. Something that both of these two books touch on, but don’t explore in too much depth is the history of the domestication of species. That’s where Tamed comes in, authored by Prof Alice Roberts. In Tamed, Roberts explores the domestication of ten species (including our own), mixing archaeology with anthropology, to reveal the secrets of the deep past. Roberts starts with a species we’re all familiar with, the dog and then traverses other animals and plants with a less than common knowledge domestication history, such as rice and horses. She then finishes with us, humans, the species that tamed the preceding nine.
This is the first of Roberts’ books that I’ve got around to reading, and it was a delight throughout. Accessible language abounds throughout, helping anyone to understand what exactly it is Roberts is trying to say. This skill of articulation means that as you read through, you can almost hear her voice in your head, narrating the story as you read. There are at times, some speculative but plausible pieces of storytelling. This may seem odd, but this is a technique that is used by the best scientific writers, such as David Quammen. Science isn’t always black and white, and when information is missing or fragmentary, you have to be a little creative in terms of how certain historical events happened – such as the taming of the first wolves. It is clear that the relationship between humans and wolves was a beneficial one for both species, but as no written record exists from that moment in time, we can’t be 100% sure on the finer details. That’s where Roberts’ skill and expertise comes in, to help paint a picture of how things were likely to have occurred. This is the same for many domesticated species, we’re now using genetics to try to unlock the secrets of their origins, and more crucially, determine when these changes took place. For some species, they were domesticated far earlier than previously thought.
Tamed is one of those books that helps to bridge the gap between a number of other books that all are investigating a similar topic. It is complementary to both Sapiens and Guns, Germs and Steel, yet fills its own niche among them. There are very few authors out there who I feel would have been able to pull this off, yet Roberts has done a fantastic job. If you’re interested in evolution, history, anthropology, or curious about the dawn of civilisation, then Tamed is a book that you can’t afford not to read.
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