Dec 31, 2012


Camel Domestication

There are two species of quadruped animal of the deserts of the world known as camel, both of which have implications for archaeology. The Bactrian (Camelus bactrianus) (two humps) resides in central Asia, while the dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) (one hump) is found in North Africa and the Near East. Camels were (and are) used for transportation, but also for their milk, dung, hair and blood, all of which were used for various purposes by nomadic pastoralists of the deserts.

Dromedaries were probably domesticated in coastal settlements along the southern Arabian peninsula somewhere between 3000 and 2500 BC. The earliest reference to camels in Arabia is the Sihi mandible, a camelid bone direct dated to ca 7100-7200 cal BC, or about 8200 RCYBP. Sihi is a Neolithic coastal site in Yemen, and the bone is probably a wild dromedary. The earliest camels in Africa are from Qasr Ibrim, Nubia, 9th century BC.

Evidence for the domestication of Bactrian camels has been found as early as 2600 BC at Shar-i Sokhta (also known as the Burnt City), Iran.


This article is part of the Guide to Animal Domestication.

Compagnoni, B. and M. Tosi, 1978. The camel: Its distribution and state of domestication in the Middle East during the third millennium B.C. in light of the finds from Shahr-i Sokhta. Pp. 119–128 in Approaches to Faunal Analysis in the Middle East, edited by R.H. Meadow and M.A. Zeder. Peabody Museum Bulletin no 2, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, New Haven, CT.

Grigson, C., J.A.J. Gowlett, and J. Zarins 1989 The Camel in Arabia: A Direct Radiocarbon Date, Calibrated to about 7000 BC. Journal of Archaeological Science 16:355-362.

Zeder, M.A., E. Emshwiller, B.D. Smith, and D.G. Bradley 2006 Documenting domestication: the intersection of genetics and archaeology. Trends in Genetics 22(3):139-155.