It is difficult to imagine where human society would be today without a history of pack animals carting freight, goods, supplies, and humans from place to place.
Animals might not have chosen to work for us, nor be able to organize their own union, but their hard work over the centuries is undeniable.
Here are 2 aninals that have been worth their weight in gold.
The donkey is the oldest known pack animal dating as far back as 4000 BC
. Tomb paintings from dynastic Egypt (3100 BC – 343 BC) depict donkeys transporting trade and agricultural goods.
Though donkeys are slower than horses, their sure-footedness made them ideal pack animals. Particularly for mountainous regions where wheeled vehicles were impractical.
Donkeys proved to be handy in ancient Greece where paved roads were few and far between. Oxen-pulled carts struggled with the rough terrain. In the province of Attica, which was ruled by the city of Athens, donkeys transported citizens and trade goods between Athens and surrounding towns and villages.
Another pack animal important to developing human society was the camel.
The distinctive camel hump varies between species. Dromedary camels have one hump, and Bactrian camels have two-humps
This hump contains stored fat which converts to energy when food is scarce. As camels metabolize the stored fat, the hump diminishes but re-expands once they eat and drink.
Camels can carry loads of approximately 300 lbs ( 136 kilograms)
on their backs, as well as traveling long distances without food or water. This explains their nickname ‘ships of the desert’.
Camels on the Silk Road
Pack camels were a regular sight on the Silk Road.
The Silk Road (200BC – 907 AD) was an interlinking series of ancient trade routes. It linked Asia with the Mediterranean and European worlds, and with parts of Africa. It linked China with the Roman Empire.
Camels transported silk westward from China. Gold, silver, and wool traveled back eastwards to China.
Camels were ideal for navigating the arid deserts and mountains of the Middle East and Central Asia
While trekking along the silk road Camels needed good sources of water supply, such as rivers. Even though they can last for long distances without water, they need to stock-up with fluids every so often. A thirsty camel can drink 113 litres
or 30 gallons of water within 13 minutes, and their body absorbs it easily.
This would prepare them for the next vast waterless trek which must have been tough on both camel and human.