Images of crops/livestock before selective breeding
August 20, 2014 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm giving a talk soon that will include a few slides about the dramatic changes wrought by selective breeding, mostly on food crops and livestock. I'm looking for examples and images (ideally public domain) that I can use to say e.g. "here's what it looked like in the wild, and here's what it looks like after 2,000 years of domestication".

You can assume that I've read the obvious wikipedia page. I guess the area I'm finding most challenging is finding old sketches/woodcuts/paintings of plants and animals as they were farmed hundreds (or thousands!) of years ago.

As an aside, Illustrations of Carrots in Ancient Manuscripts or Early Printed Books is currently my favourite page on the internet. Partly because it's a near-perfect example of what I'm looking for, but mostly because I just love the fact that someone thought "I know what the world really needs!..."
posted by metaBugs to Science & Nature (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The banana is my favorite, because it was used as an example of a fruit 'designed by god for people', when that couldn't be further from the truth.
posted by empath at 12:13 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]

Not public domain, but the NYT bulldog article from a couple of years ago included a "rendering" of what bulldogs looked like in the early 1800s.
posted by caek at 12:13 PM on August 20

Why not cheat and use contemporary wild (uncultivated) examples like wild einkorn, emmer or Aegilops tauschii? They're not identical to what would have been available thousands of years ago (wild wheat evolves too), but they're pretty clear examples of the difference between cultivation and wild reproduction.
posted by klangklangston at 12:14 PM on August 20

Or this is a great image of teosinte and maize juxtapozed:
posted by klangklangston at 12:16 PM on August 20

Here's the NYT take on the (complicated) history of maize, complete with photograph comparison.

On the other hand, even art from a couple of thousand years ago is already documenting thousands of years of human intervention and breeding-- do you mind if they just show a step along the cultivation way, or is it more to illustrate the difference between what we have now (boring carrots) and what used to be (many awesome carrots)?
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:17 PM on August 20

Stone good responses very fast, thanks! I'll come back to the thread properly in a little while, I'm just sticking my head in to clarify: you mind if they just show a step along the cultivation way, or is it more to illustrate the difference between what we have now (boring carrots) and what used to be (many awesome carrots)?

A step along the cultivation way is fine, if it's visually striking. This is for part of the introduction to a talk on genetic modification, making the point that humans have been deliberately modifying (or at least, capitalising on modifications of) the species around us for a very long time.
posted by metaBugs at 12:26 PM on August 20

Darwin's example was pigeons, but I think a better choice would be dogs. They're all descended from wolves, but they vary from Great Danes, Greyhounds, Sheepdogs, Chihuahas, Poodles, and all over the map.

Another example would be roses. Wild roses are common, so pictures of the predecessor shouldn't be a problem, and there are a wide variety of domestic forms -- which don't resemble wild roses at all.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:29 PM on August 20

Citrus fruits are also an good example, since most of the ones you buy in stores are hybrids.
posted by empath at 12:29 PM on August 20

This page on the effects of just 100 years of selective dog breeding is fascinating. Not crops or livestock, of course (unless you eat delicious dogmeat), but the mere century's worth of changes emphasizes the two millennia of husbandry you're talking about.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:31 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]

I gave a similar talk a few months ago. The examples I used were:

The auroch vs. the domestic cow.
Mouflon vs. Sheep
Wild cavie vs. Guinea Pig.
Mallard vs. Pekin Duck.
those all should have readily accessible images. The images for the crop example I used (wild vs domestic sorghum) was unfortunately in a limited access journal.
I had the class try to guess the domestic animal based off the wild antecedent.
as Admiral Haddock suggests, on dog domestication you could also use the progression from grey wolf to pre-kennel club standards, and then the rapid divergence of these morphologies as shown in this article, within the past hundred years.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 12:48 PM on August 20

Gotta throw in a cave painting or two.
posted by resurrexit at 12:50 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of illustrations, paintings, etc. cave paintings are going to be the oldest direct observations of wild, pre-domesticated and domesticated animals by human beings.
posted by Mr. Six at 2:22 PM on August 20

The New York Public Library Digital Gallery has an impressive collection of digitized historical photos and other images. But you'll have to dig to see if anything fits your needs.
posted by Gor-ella at 3:39 PM on August 20

Google "double muscling" for cattle, pit bulls and horses. In cattle it's a way to get more meat. In pit bulls it's a current fad. In horses it's an exclusively American thing that some Quarter Horse show people are in to. It renders the horse functionally useless as a riding animal. In fact most double muscled animals suffer from crippling arthritis if they live too long (not really a problem for the cows).
posted by fshgrl at 5:28 PM on August 20

It's a genetic mutation present in many animals and breeds so you'll see tons of one off examples in other animals. But its only selected for in those three groups that I know of.
posted by fshgrl at 5:30 PM on August 20

Thanks for the responses so far, folks! It'll probably be a day or two before I can dig through them properly, but you've given me a lot of very promising leads.
posted by metaBugs at 12:38 AM on August 21

Perhaps a bit oblique but here is an article about Indian cow breeds (which are legion) and the necessity of preserving them against monocultural agricultural practices, and here is a list of breeds.
posted by glasseyes at 4:25 AM on August 21

You could show pictures of wild pigs in China and Europe, then show the cross-bred globalized pig of today which combines the body size of the European pig with the litter size of the Chinese pig, as described in this article:

Porklife: Building a Better Pig
posted by guy72277 at 5:02 AM on August 25

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