The genesis of the domesticated Dromedary camel (the one-humped camel) in the historical record is found where any great genesis might be expected, in Genesis. The domesticated dromedary camels begin their story, at least in the written record, in the Bible.
It seems a safe assumption that these camels would have been domesticated given the context and given they are listed with other domesticated animals (and that a gift of untamed and aggressive wild camels is, to put it mildly, an inconvenience).
However, this particular passage, as well as many others in Genesis stating there were camels in Egypt, has been said by many to have come into conflict with the archaeological record. This is based of a fairly recent study by archaeologists Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv who propose dromedaries were not in Egypt around that time.
Their work has been circulating various forms of media, most
of which claiming this study disproves the Bible. A claim not actually asserted in the paper itself (though many new articles claim they did), though it was partly claimed the following year by ‘American Friends of Tel Aviv University’, though obviously if the conclusions made are true this would cause difficulties for the authenticity of the Genesis story.
Firstly it should be noted that attempting to accurately pinpoint a time and place for domestication is extremely difficult, if not sometimes impossible, given that domestication is a process that occurs over a long period of time rather than being a single event and given people are usually on the move….
That being said.
Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s work is pretty solid. After excavation they now have themselves the oldest bones of the domesticated camels we have, dated to around the 9th century BC.
A major difficulty with dromedary’s is that morphologically, they appear to have changed relatively little since domestication which makes it difficult to determine whether they’re domesticated bones or not. Though still possible, they employed various techniques for determining if the bones were domesticated:
- Bone frequency
- Diachronic size changes
- Sexing of the bones
- Bone lesions
They also tie the bones into socio-economic changes of the time, it appears likely dromedaries were used in the copper smelting site and as such were domesticated. They argue these bones mark the introduction of camels into this region. So how could Egypt have domesticated camels around 1000 years before the Aravah Valley (see map) given they were domesticated in southern Arabia.
Very quickly after being introduced to the region they would have been used for jobs such as this and very quickly the organisation of these sites would have changed, as they did. From these changes and the dating of bones they are able to pinpoint when camels were introduced to the region.
This is an incredibly brief overview and I suggest reading the paper if you can.
Although there are some archaeological remains of dromedaries in Egypt, there is very little (especially compared to the Arabian Peninsula) and whether they have been domesticated is questionable. There is also a lack of dromedaries being mentioned in the historical record, either from written sources of from art, whereas their is an abundance in the southern
Arabia (discussed briefly here). It seems likely then given the proximity of the Levant that Egypt would also have adopted domesticated Dromedaries, but little evidence for this exists. It would be expected the Egyptians would also used them in their smelting plants, particularly given their climate and lack of any beasts of burden, however there is no evidence for this.
From the evidence available it appears incredibly reasonable to believe that domesticated dromedaries were not in Egypt at the time of Genesis. Though this conclusion could conceivably change the study of dromedary domestication is still debated and researched and new evidence could completely change current theory… though this seems unlikely.
Although it should be considered this a book that states that the human race started with only two people… most people today believe the book of Genesis to be mostly allegorical anyway and the inclusion of camels by writers of a later time (something that appears likely) seems reasonable, as even today many probably associate camels with Egypt.
It is hard to imagine Egypt without camels… Even Google Images seems to see them as iconic of Egypt: