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insight review articles 700 NATURE | VOL 418 | 8 AUGUST 2002 | www.nature.com/nature P lant and animal domestication is the most important development in the past 13,000 years of human history. It interests all of us, scientists and non-scientists alike, because it provides most of our food today, it was prerequisite to the rise of civilization, and it transformed global demography. Because domestication ultimately yielded agents of conquest (for example, guns, germs and steel) but arose in only a few areas of the world, and in certain of those areas earlier than in others, the peoples who through biogeographic luck first acquired domesticates acquired enormous advantages over other peoples and expanded. As a result of those replacements, about 88% of all humans alive today speak some language belonging to one or another of a mere seven language families confined in the early Holocene to two small areas of Eurasia that happened to become the earliest centres of domestication — the Fertile Crescent and parts of China. Through that head start, the inhabitants of those two areas spread their languages and genes over much of the rest of the world. Those localized origins of domestication ultimately explain why this international journal of science is published in an Indo-European language rather than in Basque, Swahili, Quechua or Pitjantjatjara. Much of this review is devoted to domestication itself: its origins, the biological changes involved, its surprising restriction to so few species, the restriction of its geographic origins to so few homelands, and its subsequent geographic expansion from those homelands. I then discuss the conse- quences of domestication for human societies, the origins of human infectious diseases, expansions of agricultural populations, and human evolution. After posing the unresolved questions that I would most like to see answered, I conclude by speculating about possible future domestica- tions of plants and animals, and of ourselves. By a domesticate, I mean a species bred in captivity and thereby modified from its wild ancestors in ways making it more useful to humans who control its reproduction and (in the case of animals) its food supply. Domestication is thus distinct from mere taming of wild-born animals. Hannibal’s African war elephants were, and modern Asian work elephants still are, just tamed wild individuals, not individuals of a genetically distinct population born and reared in captivity. In 1997 I summarized available information about domestication and its consequences for human history in a book 1 . Since then, new details have continued to accumulate, and unanswered questions have come into sharper focus. Sources for statements not specifically referenced will generally be found in refs 1–9.
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