Rabbits and the Specious Origins of Domestication
By Evan K. Irving-Pease, Laurent A.F. Frantz, Naomi Sykes, Cecile Callou, and Gregor Larson
Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 33, Number 3, 2018
Introduction: Rabbits are commonly thought to have been domesticated in c. AD600 by French monks. Using historical and archaeological records, and genetic methods, we demonstrate that this is a misconception and the general inability to date domestication stems from both methodological biases and the lack of appreciation of domestication as a continuum.
Traditional archaeological approaches for inferring the origins of domestic taxa have recently been complemented by the application of genetic methods, though the two techniques have often produced widely discordant estimates.
The lack of consilience between these approaches has frustrated efforts to understand the origins of domestic plants and animals. More generally, the wide variation in reported dates raises questions about what aspects of domestication are being dated.
Most efforts to establish the timing of domestication have focused on the late Pleistocene and early Holocene when the first animals were domesticated. To better assess the lack of methodological consilience, we investigated European rabbits (Oryctalagus cuniculus). This species is ideal since they were domesticated in historic times from a geographically restricted source population (on the Iberian Peninsula and southwest France), and are present in archaeological faunal records inside and outside their indigenous distribution. The well-resolved geographic origin and the presence of an extant wild progenitor population also allowed for the application of population genetic methods to model the timing of their domestication.