Fair Exchange

Utilisation of Working Animals (and Women) in Ancient Mesopotamia and Modern Africa

in Anthropology of the Middle East
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Abstract

Modern sub-Saharan African studies on the recent adoption and impact of working-animal use provide valuable ethnographic insights for archaeologists into early exploitation of this new resource in antiquity. The systematic use of working cattle and (often forgotten in models) of donkeys constituted a key factor in the burgeoning of complex societies in fourth- and third-millennium BC Mesopotamia. Modern analogy indicates that models should include the economic importance of year-round utilisation of working animals and strategies for achieving this, including user training and animal hiring and lending. Another key finding is that the situation of women, commonly culturally constrained worldwide from handling cattle, is greatly ameliorated by the availability of donkeys, which can empower them in terms of income and status.

Contributor Notes

Jill Goulder is a mature PhD student at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London; her thesis subject is ‘The Use of Working Donkeys and Cattle in Fourth- and Third-Millennium BC Mesopotamia: Social and Economic Impacts in the Light of Modern Working-Animal Studies’. She is making extensive analogical use of a large body of recent studies in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere on the impact of working animals in cultures formerly using manual agriculture, and has made research visits to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia for observation of working-animal usage. E-mail: jill@jgoulder.com

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