While it is probably poor practice to award regions of the world marks for originating domesticates it is worth noting that Africa is responsible for four species of domestic animal in common use today, the donkey, the cat, the guinea-fowl and (probably) cattle. Of these, only cattle have attracted substantial attention from archaeozoologists, although the Near East lens through which much of their work is viewed has probably acted to obscure as much as to illuminate. To fill at least one of these lacunae, this paper focuses on reconstructing the history of the domestication of the donkey.l
Although donkeys are both widespread and economically important to their owners, they are rarely studied and are not usually subject to any improvement, development or loan schemes (Svendsen 1986). Donkeys are not conventional sources of meat, and their uses for packing and traction do not fit within the stereotyped perspectives of livestock agencies. None the less, they are essential to the subsistence strategies of many communities in semi-arid regions, relieving families of repetitive and energy-consuming tasks (Fielding & Pearson 1991). Moreover, they stay healthy on a varied and often poor-quality diet and require little management.