A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, January 9, 2012

Clues to Earliest Domestication of Camels Found in Sharja

There's been so much politics lately I'm glad my first post of the day, though an obit, was about a literary master, and my second is about archaeological/historical/cultural stuff and even better, camels.

The UAE Emirate of Sharja seems to have found major evidence of the very earliest domestication of the camel.

All I know about this latest discovery is what is in this article in The National, but it immediately reminded me of Richard Bulliet's 1975 masterpiece, The Camel and the Wheel. Dick Bulliet went on to run the Middle East Institute at Columbia for a long while and to contribute in many areas of Middle East studies from medieval to modern, not to mention writing four mystery novels set in the Middle East along the way, the earliest called Kicked to Death by a Camel.

But it's The Camel and the Wheel that's relevant here. I can't locate my first edition hardcover now, and mahy have loaned it out years ago and never got it back, which is why I'm glad to see (link in text above) that I can still get it through Amazon. It's a great work on the scholarly knowledge (as of 1975) on the domestication of the camel, but its real innovation is its emphasis on the fact that though, so far as is known, the wheel and wheeled vehicles first appear in the Middle East, the domestication of the camel led to the gradual replacement, at least in desert areas, of the horse by the camel, and since camels aren't draft animals, to the disappearance of wheeled vehicles where they had previously existed. Camels can bear burdens, but can't pull carts. Dick Bulliet has written on much broader topics since, but I will always remember him for this, and while I haven't seen him in several years, I have the sense it's still something he's profoundly proud of. He should be.

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