Domesticated animals of Australia

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Someone handling a wallaby. Artist uncredited.

Its becoming increasingly understood that Aboriginal Australians had farming societies (Gerritsen 2008, Gammage 2011), which included both typical agriculture of yams, millets and bush tomatoes and onions as well as more exotic means of production like fire-stick farming and aquaculture. The latter two in particular rely upon the manipulation of animals, raising the question as to whereas several stapples of Australian “wildlife” can actually be considered domesticates or semi-domesticates.

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Dingo by Bob Tamayo. Dogs have been carried over to Australia in the second major wave of pre-colonial migrations 8000-6000 years BC. For the purposes of this article they do not count, since we’re talking about endemic animals.

Domestication isn’t just keeping animals around as your pals/food, its also “sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and care of another group to secure a more predictable supply of resources from that second group”. Surprisingly, quite a few Australian animals do fit this description.

 

Short-finned Eeel

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Short-finned eel by Rudie H. Kuiter.

South Australia has seen the rise of an unique aquaculture of short-finned eels (Anguilla australis) that essentially substituted for conventional agriculture in the region. Starting circa 8000 years BC, local cultures began to trap eels in artificial wetlands and forcing them to pass through unique funnel-shaped baskets, allowing smaller eels to survive but trapping larger ones which would then be smoked and eaten.

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Eel trap seen here.

So efficient was the population management of eels and their production that the Dhauwurd Wurrung (also known as Gunditjmara) people were capable of living in sedentary lifestyles much like any farmer, and in fact their settlements are “several hundred houses” worth built continuously for several thousands of years (Chai 2017), and other people neighbouring them might have similarly lived semi-sedentary lives (Mallett 2002). The largest of these aquaculture lakes, Budj Bim, has thankfully been recognised recently as a world wonder.

As these people were actively selecting for larger, meatier eels, I think its fair to say that the short-finned eel is a true domesticated animal.

 

Cassowary

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Cassowary chick and its human “friends” in the New Guinean Highlands. Author uncredited.

Infamous for being the world’s deadliest bird, the cassowary should be more fmaous for also being one of the very few semi-domesticated animals in Oceania. Papuan and Northern Australian tribes regularly capture young birds and allow them to roam as poultry until they’re slaughtered. So prized are cassowaries they they’re exchanged as gifts between tribes (Bourke 2009) and its even possible that cassowaries were introduced by human beings into areas where they were previously absent (Davies 2002).

The question here is whereas cassowaries breed in captivity. If they don’t, they can be more accurately be described as “tamed” rather than true domesticated animals.

 

Kangaroos

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Kangaroo hunt by Joseph Lycett. But was it a hunt……………………………. OR A SLAUGHTER!!!!!!111111111!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!666!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????????

Kangaroos are not typically thought off as domesticated animals. But the Aboriginal Australian practise of fire-stick farming is essentially the art of imprisoning a kangaroo inside its own mind, modifying the natural environment as to create the ideal habitat for these critters to prosper and stay in (Gammage 2011).

Fire-stick farming is frequently described as “without fences”, using the kangaroo’s natural prefferences much as other people would keep livestock in enclosures. Aboriginals are thus actively manipulating kangaroos to suit their needs, which is pretty in line with what a domesticated animal is supposed to be.

If you think about it, there are no true wild kangaroos left; they have been constantly modified to suit Aboriginal needs for thousands of years. Only feral ones, much like the pig and horse escapees wandering the outback.

 

Quolls, Tasmanian Devils and Thylacines

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Thylacines in a barn. No artist credited because colonialists deserve to burn in hell.

Now we’re getting into the more speculative side of things. There are several annecdotes that document the taming if not domestication of several of Australia’s carnivorous marsupials.

Thylacines are noted to have been ridiculously docile. As dogs were never brought to Tasmania and the local Aboriginals were, contrary to racist beliefs in them losing fire, actually using fire-stick farming to the point of spreading several grass species (thus meaning that they were actually an agricultural society!), I wonder if thylacines weren’t domesticated outright. Would explain their temperament.

Tasmanian devils and quolls have also been reported as having been kept as pets by Aboriginals on some sources, but I can’t find an in-depth exploration on this subject. In any case, they were mostly likely simply tamed, as they don’t seem to have been altered to be too friendly to humans.

 

Killer Whales

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‘Old Tom’ telling his finned friend to grab something. See above picture.

The Yuin people developed an unique relationship with orcas. Though this is best documented by the relationship of a single individual (nicknamed “Old Tom”), its possible that this practise might span as far back in time as 10,000 BC.

In essence, Yuin fishermen tricked killers whales into thinking they were weak, thus prompting them to help subdue large whales. In exchange, the whales would eat the tongue and lips of the victim, while humans got the rest of the carcass.

The best way to describe this relationship is as mutualism rather than full blown domestication or even taming. Still, it represents one of the most ingenious animal-human relationships that have ever existed, comparable to the cooperation between fishermen and dolphins seen in other regions of the globe.

Conclusion

No matter how much colonists attempted to dismiss Aboriginal Australian civilization, the fact of the matter is that a diverse set of technologies was in place before the arrival of europeans. This includes domestication, a “mark of the civilized man” that was clearly present across the peoples of Australia.

Now let me dream of about my thylacine pet.

References

Rupert Gerritsen, Australia and the Origins of Agriculture, 2008

Bill Gammage, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia, 2011

Chai, Paul (27 January 2017). “On a mission: Uncovering the past of Victoria’s Gunditjmara country”. Traveller.com.au.

Mallett, Ashley (2002). The Black Lords of Summer: The Story of the 1868 Aboriginal Tour of England and Beyond. University of Queensland Press. pp. 169–175. ISBN 978-0-702-23262-6.

Davies, S. J. J. F. (2002). Ratites and Tinamous. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854996-2.

Antarctic Mythology

So I’m planning an alternate history project involving a hypothetical Antarctic/Subantarctic civilisation, and here’s a sneak work in progress peak

Mythology

An universal motif among Antarctic peoples is the dualistic perception of the cosmos. The universe is divided into two oceans, the “dark” ocean where ships sail and the “light” ocean where the sun swims. The sky, it is reasoned, is another sea that mirrors the physical ocean, clouds analogous to icebergs and stars and constellations to the people and animals of the earth. Gods inhabit both realms, and continuously move between the two oceans; seabirds, with their ability to swim in both seas, illustrate this process and are typically revered as messengers of the gods. How both oceans came to part varies from culture to culture, and this ambiguity is particularly emphasised in poetry.

Though the universal is dualistic, morality is not necessarily so. Fire and ice both harm after all, and the gods are as kind as they are petty. Dualistic morality did express itself multiple times – after all, its only too easy to see fire as good in a world of ice – but this quickly died down as the god of flesh and fire became the promenient deity of the southern raiders.

Promenient Deities

Sun Goddess – The ruler of the cosmos across the Antarctic peoples, most notably being the patron deity of Kerguelen. She sails across the light ocean during the day, before braving the depths during the night; for this reason is is strongly associated with seabirds, the most sacred animals, an albatross or gannet during the day and a penguin during the night. In Kerguelen and the Falkland islands she is also frequently associated with the giant petrel and the skua, predatory birds that rule over the sky much as the orca rules the sea, while Antarctic people are fond of emphasising the emperor and king penguins due to their bright yellow cheeks. Sometimes she is portrayed as the demiurge, the very first flame to shape the seas, othertimes she is seen as a descendent of the creator deity that inherited their throne. Though the South has never experienced full monotheism prior to contact with europeans due to the many natural agents at work, her worship has acquired henotheistic qualities at times, venerating her at the exclusion of other gods. Two structures built in her honour, the Kerguelen Golden Stairs and the Bouvet Gannet, are universally considered world wonders. Typically associated with the East in the cardinal directions.

Moon Goddess – The South is one of the very few places in the world where both the lunar and solar deities are typically invisioned as female, with the lunar cult in particular thought to have evolved in Tasmania. Notably, Antarctic peoples invision the Moon as male and often equated with Lord Orca, lending credence to the idea that the Moon was male prior to Tasmanian contact. The Moon goddess is strongly associated with the Great White Shark due to the crescent fins of these predators, and is likewise seen as a protective mother figure. The rivalry between the sun and moon varies from culture to culture, several myths illustrating why both are rarely seen in the sky at the same time and showing her either aiding the Sun against Lord Orca or helping him subdue her. Typically associated with the West in the cardinal directions.

Lord Orca – The orca is revered in the South much as wolves were in the northern hemisphere, as a fierce rival and competitor to humans. Orca monsters and deities are common throught the South, gradually coalescing into Lord Orca. He is seen as the ruler of the dark ocean and the god of death and cold, dragging human souls into the abyss. Yet as the god of the seas he is also capable of providing prey for humans to hunt, and as such he is as often appeased as he is repelled. He is the frequent mate of the Moon Goddess and enemy of the God of Flesh and Fire, being its jailer. The relationship between Lord Orca and the Sun is more complicated, sometimes shown as an enemy that attempts to drown her every night and swallows her during the eclipses, othertimes shown as her enforcer. The white spots on orcas are often linked to glaciars in poetry, and conversely Lord Orca is also seen as a god of the clouds. Typically associated with the South in the cardinal directions.

God of Flesh and Fire – An extremely perplexing deity embodying heat and disorder, associated with flesh, fire and decay. It is typically embodied as a formless mass much like the Chinese Hundun and Greek Khaos, except that it is an actively worshipped deity and even the patron of the Antarctic peoples, as opposed to the rest of the Sun-worshipping South. Multi-armed, two-faced grotesques found in the Antarctic Peninsula date as far back as 10,000 BC, indicating that worship of this god was present as early as the initial human colonisation of Antarctica. The God of Fire and Flesh is a terrifying but ambivalent deity, thought to assume any form and to wander the earth to devour and bless people. Sacrifices are a promenient feature of its worship more so than any other Southern deity, often by simply dropping blood or living tissue into flames, with Antarctic raiders infamously known for tearing people apart apart and burning the remains. Though usually seen as seperate from the Sun, it is often seen as her creation or offspring; the epic poem known as Eternal Vows in particular illustrates it as her punishment towards mankind, ripping out her own womb and sending it to haunt humanity. Typically associated with the North in the cardinal directions.

Wizards of the Coast are thieves. Like, very dumb thieves.

And the sky is blue. But anyways.

So sometime again I decided to purchase an Arclight Phoenix. Didn’t get it, so asked for a refund. The staff responsible for that told me that they would not refund me, so I escalated the case. Paypal asked WOTC for information, which apparently they did not provide, knowing clearly that they were in the wrong. And so I got my money back.

Flash forward to yesterday, and in a moment of spite they terminated my Arena account. I was quite anxious about this all day and I repeatedly asked the staff as to the reasons behind said termination, which they deliberately answered as slowly and obtusely as possible. Finally, after I’ve informed them of my health problems, they decided that they would not reinstate my account unless I paid them my refunds back.

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This is why nobody likes capitalists.

Anyways, I gave them a warning that, due to my health problems being enhanced by my anxiety, that I am well in my rights to sue their asses. Predictably, they are also twelve year olds and are goading me to do it.

Tomorrow I will go to court. Lessons learned: capitalism is driven by morons who truly deserve their downfall.

Gondwannan Metatherians Triplex

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Biogeography of the Eocene Pontide mammal fauna of Turkey. Note an African origin for local Polydolopiformes.

So some time ago I ruminated on a rumination. This rumination became somewhat vindicated by a recent study on the Eocene fauna of Turkey.

Basically, Turkey at the time, as evidenced by the “Pontide mammal fauna” of the Lülük Member of the Uzunçarşıdere Formation, was an island continent. It lacked rodents, carnivorans, hyaenodonts and ungulates, but it did include pleuraspidotheriids (a lineage of herbivorous mammals that ocurred across Europe in the Paleocene but have since became extinct elsewhere outside of Turkey), embrithopod afrotherians as well as a massively diverse array of metatherian mammals.

This includes Anatoliadelphys maasae and the closely related Orhaniyeia nauta, both specialised carnivores and clear evidence that this Turkey island was operating on the South American school of metatherians at the top of the food chain and placentals being bush-burping, stem-smelling, garden-gorging, plant-popping, tree-tasting, dirt-devouring beasts!

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Anatoliadelphys maasae by Peter Schouten.

But the curious thing about these carnivorous metatherians was their origin. Most Turkish metatherians are peradectids or herpetotheriids, both clades found in Laurasia, but these carnivores and a few related taxa are instead Polydolopiformes, a clade of metatherians otherwise best known from South America and possibly also the Eocene of Australia in the Murgon fossil site.

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Jaws of the (putative) Polydolopiformes Epidolops ameghinoi (A) and Kramadolops abanicoi (B), the argyrolagid Argyrolagus primus (C) and the modern shrew-opossum Lestoros inca (D).

Polydolopiformes themselves are a complicated bunch, sometimes recovered as stem-shrew-opossums, sometimes as part of a clade of gondwannan metatherians that also includes sparassodonts (which I mentioned previously in said rumination) and sometimes as entirely polyphyletic.

In this study, they are recovered as a fully monophyletic clade possibly nested inside of Marsupialia alongside several other south american and australian taxa. And, of course, these anatolian species.

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Metatheria cladogram in this study. Notice that Pucadelphys, a taxon typically included in the sparassodont clade, is now a marsupial related to shrew-opossums.

The paper remains cautious and still refers to these taxa as metatherians rather than marsupials, but at any rate the idea of an unified sparassodont + Polydolopiformes seems to have gone murky. Note that the supposed Cretaceous North American sparassodont Varalphodon may not actually be a sparassodont.

If Polydolopiformes are marsupials, its interesting to note that so is Glasbius, a Cretaceous north american genus. This indicates multiple colonisations of South America by crown-group marsupials(!). Whereas Varalphodon is a sparassodont or not, the Mongolian Gurlin Tsav skull still appears to be related to them, and the Eocene metatherian Eobrasilia coutoi appears to be a stagodontid, indicating that there were in fact multiple colonisation events on the part of metatherians towards Gondwanna. Most surely seem to have come from North America, but I do still hope that sparassodonts may have taken the Indian route.

Because the anatolian taxa are deeply nested among the gondwannan Polydolopiformes, its been suggested that they arrived not from Laurasia but from Africa, alongside the contemporary embrithopods. Currently there are no fossils of metatherians in Africa from the early Paleogene – the earliest are Oligocene herpetotheriids, which clearly got there by rafting from Europe – but the Paleogene african fossil record is noted as notoriously poor anyways, and there are no Polydolopiformes in the better preserved fossil records of Europe and Asia. Still, possible Polydolopiformes are known from North America, so while definitely more romantic a Gondwannan origin is not fully in the cards yet; for all we know Polydolopiformes could have been in the Paleocene of Europe, just briefly enough to become isolated in Turkey.

A thing definitely worth mentioning is the ecology of these animals. Polydolopiformes are typically constructed as seed specialists and frugivores, many genera even bearing plaugiaulacoid teeth similar to those of multituberculates and still living rat-kangaroos. Yet, these anatolian taxa are specialised carnivores with bone-crushing teeth, as is the possibly related Archaeonothos henkgodthelpi from the Murgon fossil site. Assuming that these speciations towards durophagy didn’t evolve independently, there was apparently a guild of specialised bone-crushing metatherians roaming Australia, Antarctica, Africa and Turkey, eventually displaced by other metatherians and placentals.

Lastly, this paper throws the idea that eastern Europe was an ecological corridor between western Europe, Africa and India during the Paleogene completely out the window, since Turkey is right in the middle of these places and it clearly harboured an unique island fauna unlike that of anywhere else in the epoch. Groups like hyaenodonts, caecilians, pleurodire turtles, frogs and possibly ostriches must have either gotten around between western Europe and India either through Africa or through Asia.

References

See links

Passion at the Mountains

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A lizard cowers in fear.

It tooks to the sun for help, but the sun sinks deeper into the range, orange and black contrasting against each other.

It has abandoned the faithful.

The lizard despairs, and fear leads to anger.

It imagines, for a moment, what it would be like to kill its enemies, to make them feel its fear and pain. To see their bodies broken, their features distorted, their limbs rearranged, their tendons fine strings for an eldritch instrument only a twisted mind could comprehend.

Such is the lizard’s imagination, it loses itself in the carnage, and it feels its blood boil and singe with power.

The mountain, whose blood also runs hot, is in sympathy with the lizard, and both are united in a dazzling wrath.

But the thing about wrath it that it clears the mind, like a forest fire cleanses the undergrowth. Thoughts of violence clear, to leave anguished suffering.

Much as there is sympathy between the mountains and the lizard, so there is empathy for the lizard and its enemies.

And so, the lizard comes with a more witty plan: rather than maim its foes, make them think they will be maimed.

And so, at every fire, the lizard’s rage becomes a fearsome shadow, that no creatures great or small can help but to fear. From the greatest hydra to the most stalwart angel to the most passionate dragon, all see the violence that would ensue and all take a step back.

Soon, a lizard’s cries become wicked snickers.