“[W]hat traces of human civilisation would future scientists find in the strata of the Anthropocene epoch?
One feature of the fossil record we are creating for the basal Anthropocene strata is unlike any past geological transition.
Millions of years from now, palaeontologists will likely excavate a disproportionately large number of bones belong to large to medium-sized mammals. Weirdly, they may think, the fossils are almost entirely of just a small handful of species. And their bones are on every continent apart from Antarctica.
Their discoveries will be a sample of our cows, sheep, goats and pigs which we have selected, transported and reared in their billions to feed the seven billion of us.”
“Consider animal demographics in an intensive agricultural world, says Jan Zalasiewicz: “Instead of having a natural terrestrial ecosystem consisting of two or three hundred vertebrate species all coexisting and all being moderately common, we and the creatures we keep have suddenly exploded as populations.”
About 60% of the weight of all the back-boned animals on the Earth’s surface today is our livestock. The mass of all the people takes up another 30%. The remaining nine or so percent is all of the wild creatures.
Any individual land animal’s chances of being fossilised are extremely poor … However, [some] researchers speculate that enough livestock die on the range or get swept away in floods for them to take more than their fair share of the coming palaeontological limelight in the Anthropocene boundary layers.”
The academic year has come to an end, and an exciting summer of research is just around the corner!
Last month we went to Mangaiti Station, the North Island’s only merino stud breeder. It was the end of lambing season and, as you can see below, the weather was still a bit cold and some of the new lambs had been given felted jumpers for added warmth. As the Kiwis say, “Cute as!”
Luckily, we were just in time to help with tagging the stud lambs, which basically involves three simple steps:
1) identify which lambs belong to which RFID-tagged ewes;
2) use a handheld RFID reader to identify the ewes;
and 3) put a temporary visual ID tag in the lamb’s ear, using an applicator not unlike the one that pierced my ears.
Later, each sheep will be given an EID tag as well as a more permanent, and non-reactive, brass ID tag.
Sometimes the electronic ID tags are lost and, occasionally, the tags cause infection and need to be removed. When we were there, the old-fashioned metal shears above were used to cut the pin holding the tag in one ewe’s ear, leaving a circular, tag-shaped hole where the infected flesh had rotted away. The ewe gave no indication she was in pain, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this scenario could be easily avoided with the use of different materials or through better tag design.
One thing that’s been made abundantly clear to us–and especially so during lambing season–is that merino breeders and growers are heavily invested in doing whatever they reasonably can to ensure that their animals don’t only survive, but actually thrive.
I’m currently writing up some of my observations for a paper I’ll be giving at the CSAA conference next month in Sydney, and I’ve found the concept of tinkering (via Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms) to be particularly useful in thinking about what it means to be bound to livestock in unsentimental ways and still genuinely care for them.
Now, what else is happening?
Well, next week Catherine and I are heading down to the South Island to visit Glenaan Station, Mt Hay Station and Beckford Farm, which is home to some gorgeous coloured merino, and we hope to visit a few more stations in Otago before the end of the month as well.
I’m also busy preparing for a seminar on fantastic ethnographies that I’ll be giving at RMIT at the end of the month–inspired, in part, by Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Author of the Acacia Seeds” and based on a paper I’ll be giving at the ASAANZ conference in December.
And as if that’s not enough, we’ve got five incredibly cool design projects happening this summer so be sure to stay tuned for updates on what we’re doing and making!
Update 16 November
I broke my ankle last week and am not going anywhere until the new year. (Boo! Hiss!) On the upside, we’ll still be doing some awesome design work over the summer, so please stay tuned for updates from me and some awesome research assistants!
Frédéric Houssay’s 1893 The Industries of Animals is a classic example of 19th century categorisation practices, and the table of contents is a rather lovely list to read. Imagine how different animals would be if we understood them in these ways:
INTRODUCTION. The naturalists of yesterday and the naturalists of to-day–Natural history and the natural sciences–The theory of Evolution–The chief industries of Man–The chief industries of Animals–Intelligence and instinct–Instinctive actions originate in reflective actions–The plan of study of the various industries.
HUNTING–FISHING–WARS AND EXPEDITIONS. The Carnivora more skilful hunters than the Herbivora–Different methods of hunting–Hunting in ambush–The baited ambush–Hunting in the dwelling or in the burrow–Coursing–Struggles that terminate the hunt–Hunting with projectiles–Particular circumstances put to profit–Methods for utilising the captured game–War and brigandage–Expeditions to acquire slaves–Wars of the ants.
METHODS OF DEFENCE. Flight–Feint–Resistance in common by social animals–Sentinels.
PROVISIONS AND DOMESTIC ANIMALS. Provisions laid up for a short period–Provisions laid up for a long period–Animals who construct barns–Physiological reserves–Stages between physiological reserves and provisions–Animals who submit food to special treatment in order to facilitate transport–Care bestowed on harvested provisions–Agricultural ants–Gardening ants–Domestic animals of ants–Degrees of civilisation in the same species of ants–Aphis-pens and paddocks–Slavery among ants.
PROVISION FOR REARING THE YOUNG. The preservation of the individual and the preservation of the species–Foods manufactured by the parents for their young–Species which obtain for their larvæ foods manufactured by others–Carcasses of animals stored up–Provision of paralysed living animals–The cause of the paralysis–The sureness of instinct–Similar cases in which the specific instinct is less powerful and individual initiative greater–Genera less skilful in the art of paralysing victims.
DWELLINGS. Animals naturally provided with dwellings–Animals who increase their natural protection by the addition of foreign bodies–Animals who establish their home in the natural or artificial dwellings of others–Classification of artificial shelters–Hollowed dwellings–Rudimentary burrows–Carefully-disposed burrows–Burrows with barns adjoined–Dwellings hollowed out in wood–Woven dwellings–Rudiments of this industry–Dwellings formed of coarsely-entangled materials–Dwellings woven of flexible substances–Dwellings woven with greater art–The art of sewing among birds–Modifications of dwellings according to season and climate–Built dwellings–Paper nests–Gelatine nests–Constructions built of
earth–Solitary masons–Masons working in association–Individual skill and reflection–Dwellings built of hard materials united by mortar–The dams of beavers.
THE DEFENCE AND SANITATION OF DWELLINGS. General precautions against possible danger–Separation of females while brooding–Hygienic measures of Bees–Prudence of Bees–Fortifications of Bees–Precautions against inquisitiveness–Lighting up the nests.
CONCLUSION. Degree of perfection in industry independent of zoological superiority–Mental faculties of the lower animals of like nature to Man’s.
Mostly social and cultural perspectives, with a little geography, media, art, biology and philosophy thrown in.
Alger and Alger, Cat Culture: The Social World of a Cat Shelter
Arluke, Just a Dog: Understanding Animal Cruelty and Ourselves
Arluke and Sanders, Regarding Animals
Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals
Bekoff and Pierce, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals
Broglio, Surface Encounters: Thinking with Animals and Art
Brower, Developing Animals: Wildlife and Early American Photography
Chris, Watching Wildlife
Daston and Mitman (eds.), Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism
DeMello (ed.), Teaching the Animal: Human-Animal Studies across the Disciplines (plus bibliography)
DeMello, Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies
Flynn (ed.), Social Creatures: A Human and Animal Studies Reader
Goode, Playing with My Dog Katie: An Ethno-Methodological Study of Canine/Human Interaction
Gross and Vallely (eds.), Animals and the Human Imagination: A Companion to Animal Studies
Haraway, When Species Meet
Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness
Kalof and Fitzgerald (eds.), The Animals Reader: The Essential Classic and Contemporary Writings
Manning and Serpell (eds.), Animals and Human Society: Changing Perspectives
McHugh, Animal Stories: Narrating across Species Lines
Mol, Moser and Pols (eds.), Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms
Philo and Wilbert (eds.), Animal Spaces, Beastly Places
Rothfels (ed.), Representing Animals
Rudy, Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy
Serpell, In the Company of Animals: A Study of Human-Animal Relationships
Shukin, Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times
Urbanik, Placing Animals: An Introduction to the Geography of Human-Animal Relations
Vint, Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal
Weil, Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now?
Wilkie, Livestock/Deadstock: Working with Farm Animals from Birth to Slaughter
Wilkie and Inglis (eds.), Animals and Society: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences
Wolfe, Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory
The scan above is from Sarah Franklin’s excellent 2007 book, Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy.
I don’t know if her interpretation of the ASL sign for “sheep” makes sense to people who speak ASL (I have to assume she checked!) but I’m completely fascinated by the idea that it performs a hybrid: simultaneously human (the shearer), animal (the sheep) and technological (the shears).
So I decided to check if all English sign languages are the same and, as with all interesting research, found that I now have more questions than answers.
For example, the sign for “sheep” is the same in British Sign Language, Auslan and NZ Sign Language – it involves using the fingers to indicate curly horns on the sides of the head, like a ram – and is used to refer to both a wool-producing animal (sheep) and its meat (lamb/mutton).
First, I find it interesting that the sign performs the appearance of a ram and not a ewe, although they certainly are more visually distinctive. Are all animal signs based on appearance rather than behaviour, use, etc.?
Second, I have no idea why it is completely different from ASL for “sheep” — giving no indication of how people interact with the animal — but since all three sign languages also have separate signs for shearing/shearer, one possibility that comes to mind is that sheep in the UK, Australia and NZ are more “multi-purpose” animals and shearing is considered a culturally distinct activity and identity.
Third, Auslan has two additional signs for sheep, one regionally-specific, and NZSL has another two for lamb as well, although it is unclear if they’re referring to the animal or the meat. In any case, does this more extensive vocabulary indicate greater cultural significance?
Fourth, I was enjoying the (rather wishful) thought that one of the NZSL signs for lamb might be performing their notoriously cute “sproinging” action, but then I found out it’s very similar to the Auslan sign for “woolen” and wondered why would a lamb be more closely associated with wool than with meat?
Okay, okay. It’s clearly time to stop speculating and speak with the experts! I’ll update this with what I learn.