WHAT IS LIVING HERITAGE?

For many centuries it was a familiar image in the countryside that a farmer tilled a field with draft horses or oxen, while goats grazed on a rope by the road side and pigs rattled in the pasture. The rooster would still crow on the dung heap, the sheepdogs drove the sheep together, and while the pigeons tumbled around the house with their dung dumped in the vegetable garden. Due to the long period in which they originated and evolved, the old breeds of farm animals and birds were hardened and adapted to the climate of their region, the composition of the soil and the food crops that grew there. They were dua-purpose animals that, in addition to meat, also supplied milk, manure, wool, coats, feathers or eggs for the local community. With the rise of intensive and large-scale agriculture in the course of the twentieth century, however, these traditional regional varieties proved to be no longer profitable. Many of them are therefore threatened with extinction today. Just like historical buildings, the old breeds of farm animals and birds are monuments that deserve to be preserved and protected.
The Neolithic Revolution, also called the Agricultural Revolution, marked the transition in human history from small nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers to larger, agricultural settlements and early civilization. The Neolithic Revolution started around 10,000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent, a boomerang-shaped region of the Middle East where humans first took up farming. Shortly after, Stone Age humans in other parts of the world also began to practice agriculture. Civilizations and cities grew out of the innovations of the Neolithic Revolution. The Neolithic Age is sometimes called the New Stone Age. Neolithic humans used stone tools like their earlier Stone Age ancestors, who eked out a marginal existence in small bands of hunter-gatherers during the last Ice Age.

Australian archaeologist V. Gordon Childe coined the term Neolithic Revolution in 1935 to describe the radical and important period of change in which humans began cultivating plants, breeding animals for food and forming permanent settlements. The advent of agriculture separated Neolithic people from their Paleolithic ancestors.

Many facets of modern civilization can be traced to this moment in history when people started living together in communities.

Livestock domestication:
Domestication is the process by which farmers select for desirable traits by breeding successive generations of a plant or animal. Over time, a domestic species becomes different from its wild relative.

The first attempts at domestication of animals and plants apparently were made in the Old World during the Mesolithic Period. Dogs were first domesticated in Central Asia by at least 15,000 years ago by people who engaged in hunting and gathering wild edible plants. The first successful domestication of plants, as well as goats, cattle, and other animals—which heralded the onset of the Neolithic Period—occurred sometime before 9500 BCE. It was not until the Neolithic Period, however, that primitive agriculture appeared as a form of social activity, and domestication was well under way. (The Neolithic Period occurred at different times around the world but is generally thought to have begun sometime between 10,000 and 8,000 BCE.) Although the great majority of domesticated animals and plants that still serve humans were selected and developed during the Neolithic Period, a few notable examples appeared later. The rabbit, for example, was not domesticated until the Middle Ages; the sugar beet came under cultivation as a sugar-yielding agricultural plant only in the 19th century; and mint became an object of agricultural production as recently as the 20th century. Also in the 20th century, a new branch of animal breeding was developed to obtain high-quality fur.
The first farm animals also included sheep and cattle. These originated in Mesopotamia between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago. Water buffalo and yak were domesticated shortly after in China, India and Tibet. The specific economic application of domesticated animals did not appear at once. Dogs probably accompanied hunters and helped them hunt wild animals; they probably also guarded human settlements and warned the inhabitants of possible danger. At the same time, they were eaten by humans, which was probably their main importance during the first stages of domestication. Sheep and goats were also eaten in the initial stages of domestication but later became valuable for producing the commodities of milk and wool.

The principal aim of cattle breeding in ancient times was to obtain meat and skin and to produce work animals, which greatly contributed to the development of agriculture. Cattle, at the initial stages of domestication, produced a small amount of milk, sufficient only to rear their calves. The development of high milk yield in cows with their breeding especially for milk production is a later event in the history of domestication.

The first domesticated horses were also used for meat and skin. Later the horse played an enormous role in the waging of war. Peoples inhabiting the Middle East in the 2nd millennium BCE used horses in chariot battles. With time the horse began to be used as transportation. In the 1st millennium BCE carts appeared, and the horses were harnessed to them; other riding equipment, including the saddle and the bit, seems to have appeared in later centuries. The donkey and the camel were used only for load transport and as means of conveyance; their unpalatability ruled out their use as a preferred food.

The first domesticated hens perhaps were used for sport. Cockfighting was instrumental in bringing about the selection of these birds for larger size. Cocks later acquired religious significance. In Zoroastrianism the cock was associated with protection of good against evil and was a symbol of light. In ancient Greece it was also an object of sacrifice to gods. It is probable that egg production of the first domesticated hens was no more than five to ten eggs a year; high egg yield and improved meat qualities of hens developed at later stages of domestication.

Early domestication of the cat was probably the result of the pleasure experienced from keeping this animal. The cat’s ability to catch mice and rats was surely another reason that impelled people to keep cats at home. In ancient Egypt the cat was considered a sacred animal.

Some animals were domesticated for utilitarian purposes from the very beginning. Here belongs, first of all, the rabbit, whose real domestication was carried out from the 6th to the 10th century CE by French monks. The monks considered newborn rabbits “fish” and ate them when the church calendar indicated abstinence from meat.

For the sake of honey, the bee was domesticated at the end of the Neolithic Period. Honey has played an enormous role in human nutrition since ancient times; it ceased being the sole sweetening agent only about 200 years ago. Bees also provided wax and bee venom, which was used as medicine. Bees were used also, to a limited extent, in warfare, hives being thrown among enemy troops to rout them.

To obtain silk, the silkworm was domesticated in China no later than 3000 BCE, and by 1000 BCE the technology of silkworm breeding and raising had been thoroughly documented.

Traditionally, the main criteria for judging relationships between domestic or cultivated organisms and wild ancestors were similarities of structure and function, but cytogenetically examinations, particularly comparisons of chromosomes and chromosome sets, also are adding to the knowledge of the origins of domesticated organisms. With animals, morphological and biochemical (i.e., blood typing) studies are made.

During the 11,000 or 12,000 years that have passed since the beginning of domestication, the animals and plants that humans have selected as useful to them have undergone profound changes. The consequences of domestication are so great that the differences between breeds of animals or varieties of plants of the same species often exceed those between different species under natural conditions.

The most important consequence of domestication of animals consists of a sharp change in their seasonal biology. The wild ancestors of domesticated animals are characterized by strict seasonal reproduction and molting rhythms. Most domesticated species, on the contrary, can reproduce themselves at almost any season of the year and molt little or not at all. No less characteristic are the changes that occur in plants as a result of domestication. Their structure and general appearance may be drastically changed.

The elementary genetic mechanism that draws the recessive genes out from the cover of the wild genotype of the natural species also brings about the first domestication-dependent changes and the initial differentiation of a wild species into types that can serve as the basis for breed formation. Nature, in effect, has a store of various types and forms hidden as recessive mutations in every natural population of wild animals and plants. It is this accumulated mutation pool that is exploited by humans in breeding. Such interference, called artificial selection, plays a truly creative role in the formation of modern animal breeds and plant varieties to suit human needs.

Artificial selection differs considerably from natural selection, which creates stabilized biological systems that ensure the development of a normal or so-called wild, phenotype—i.e., organisms containing a wealth of properties that readapt it to a wide variety of environmental conditions and ensure continuation of the species. Artificial selection breaks down precisely these stabilized systems, thereby creating gene combinations that could not survive in nature and providing a range of new possibilities.