The domestication of animals is largely thought to have occurred within the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and in various localized spots throughout Asia. This was partly driven by the fact that there were many types of local large herbivores, such as wild sheep and cattle, that were particularly suited to being brought under the yoke in these places. But what about in parts of the world where there were an absence of such animals, for example in South America?
Well, it seems that they may have instead turned their focus to the smaller critters around. New evidence from the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan shows that in the absence of larger animals, the people living there may have been farming rabbits and hares, which were used for food, fur, and bone tools. With such a large concentration of people – estimated to have had a population of around 100,000 at its height, making it the largest city in the world at the time – the surrounding wildlife was most likely overhunted, meaning that the inhabitants would have needed to gain their meat from these managed sources.
“Because no large mammals such as goats, cows, or horses were available for domestication in pre-Hispanic Mexico, many assume that Native Americans did not have as intensive human-animal relationships as did societies of the Old World,” says UC San Diego’s Andrew Somerville, co-author of the study published in PLOS One, in a statement. “Our results suggest that citizens of the ancient city of Teotihuacan engaged in relationships with smaller and more diverse fauna, such as rabbits and jackrabbits, and that these may have been just as important as relationships with larger animals.”
Researchers also found stone statues of rabbits. F. Botas
During the excavations of the city of Teotihuacan, which was occupied between 1 to 550 CE, archaeologists have unearthed buildings that appear to have been rabbit farms. The floors of the rooms are heavy in phosphates (indicating poop), large quantities of rabbit bones, and a large number of obsidian blades thought to have been used for slaughter. Further analysis of the bones also showed that the rabbits had eaten farmed crops grown in the region at the time.
The domestication of large animals is thought to have led to the development of complex societies due to the ability to use them for transport, easy access to high-quality protein, and other secondary products of value. It has previously been suggested that the lack of animals suited to this in the Americas, except of course the alpaca and llama, may have constrained the development of civilizations in the region. But this latest research may now question at least part of that narrative.