In this fascinating book, Terry O’Connor explores a distinction that is deeply ingrained in much of the language that we use in zoology, human-animal studies, and archaeology—the difference between wild and domestic. For thousands of years, humans have categorized animals in simple terms, often according to the degree of control that we have over them, and have tended to see the long story of human-animal relations as one of increasing control and management for human benefit. And yet, around the world, species have adapted to our homes, our towns, and our artificial landscapes, finding ways to gain benefit from our activities and so becoming an important part of our everyday lives. These commensal animals remind us that other species are not passive elements in the world around us but intelligent and adaptable creatures. Animals as Neighbors shows how a blend of adaptation and opportunism has enabled many species to benefit from our often destructive footprint on the world. O’Connor investigates the history of this relationship, working back through archaeological records. By requiring us to take a multifaceted view of human-animal relations, commensal animals encourage a more nuanced understanding of those relations, both today and throughout the prehistory of our species.
“A fascinating evolutionary and social history of our relationship with a wide range of commensal mammal and bird species, raising the question of what it really means to be a ‘wild animal.’ This important interdisciplinary study will be of great interest and relevance to both archaeologists and biologists.”
—Samuel Turvey, Senior Research Fellow, Zoological Society of London
“In this engaging volume, O’Connor synthesizes information from many disciplines to elaborate upon commensalism and the commensal animals that share space with us by choice or necessity, with or without our knowledge and consent. Occupying a gap between wild and domestic, commensal organisms were scorned and ignored in the past and by ecologists and environmental archaeologists today. Yet, as O’Connor ably points out, the archaeological record clearly shows that these relationships are important in the life history of our species as well as in present-day ethnozoological landscapes and ecosystems. This delightful volume reminds us not to overlook the close associations between our animal neighbors and ourselves.”
—Elizabeth J. Reitz, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Georgia