Wednesday, September 7, 2011

8. Clay Model of Cattle (Egypt, about 3500 BC)

MacGregor admits that this little statuette of four cows grazing, found in a tomb in pre-Pharaonic Egypt, isn’t the most exciting work in the Egyptian rooms at the museum. He chose it because, just like Gary Larsen and The Far Side, he’s really big on cows. Historically, it’s fun to think about the relationship between humans and cows pre-agriculture. When I was in neolithic England I kept reading about aurochs, wild cattle, big horned monsters our ancestors used to chase around. How on earth did they first domesticate them into the placid cud-chewers we all love and love to eat? Not sure. It happened in Africa, and the first thing they did was to ruin the north of the continent--which had been fertile grassland--by overgrazing it and making the Sahara. The Nile Valley, however, was hard to kill, and the benefits of domesticated cattle were enjoyed by Egyptians throughout the flourishing of their civilization.

By the way, it took a long time for us to evolve into and through the agricultural revolution. Sure, it’s nice to eat beef; but digesting lactose into adulthood? Quirk of evolution, and some people still don’t have it. Same with the grains we domesticated; we had to evolve to digest them, and we evolved them selectively for ones that best fit our requirements.

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