Camels, like other domesticated animals, have a long, varied and significant history with humans. That history, though, is not what you might think.
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Common Core Standards met in this lesson: RI9-10.1, SL9-10.1 (see details below).
—The Editors

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—Julie Weiss

The Magnificient Migration

Camels, like other domesticated animals, have a long, varied and significant history with humans. That history, though, is not what you might think. Most people think of camels in the deserts of the Middle East and the steppes of Asia, which is where most of them live today. But this article presents surprising evidence that that's not where camels came from. When you read "The Magnificient Migration," you'll learn how archeologists have found out where camels originated and what they've learned about how camels adapted to harsh climates. You'll also learn about how camels have contributed to civilizations. By the time you finish the following activities based on the article, you will be able to:
  • Describe and provide evidence of the close relationship between camels and humans, including how camels have affected human cultures and economies;
  • Evaluate whether or not humans and camels have a symbiotic relationship;
  • Identify the adaptations of camels and how these adaptations help camels survive;
  • Explain where camels originated and provide evidence to support your explanation;
  • Speculate on the value of knowing where camels originated and that they migrated to other parts of the world.

1. The Human-Camel Bond

Begin work on "The Magnificient Migration" by looking at the connection between humans and camels.  It's that connection, after all, that's a reason people want to know more about and understand camels, and why they study them.

What is symbiosis?

Writer and camel aficionado Peter Harrigan describes the relationship between humans and camels as symbiotic. Look up the word symbiotic, and write a definition of it. Think about humans and camels having a symbiotic relationship. What might that look like? Discuss the question with a partner or as a class discussion. Add to your definition of symbiotic a hypothesis of how you would expect people and camels to interact if they are, in fact, symbiotic. You will check back after you complete these activities to see if your hypothesis is accurate.

What evidence shows the close connections between humans and camels?

Peter Harrigan doesn't simply state that humans and camels are symbiotic. He provides evidence to support the claim. Working on your own or with a partner, go through the article and highlight or write on a separate sheet of paper the evidence presented in the article that shows the closeness of the two species. Hint: You will find most of the information near the beginning and near the end of the article.  

Looking at the evidence of the human-camel bond, think about what each species might get from the interaction. Make a T-chart. In the left column, write what camels provide for humans. In the right-hand column, write what humans provide to camels. Do you think it's a fair exchange? If not, who do you think gets the better end of the bargain? What makes you think so? Do you agree or disagree with the assertion that humans and camels are symbiotic? Write a short statement that answers the question. Include in your statement the reason(s) why you answered as you did. Have volunteers share their writing in the class.

2. Camel's Adaptations

Harrigan describes the first time he met a camel and says it started his "long appreciation of the camel's adaptive wonders." In the first two paragraphs of the article, he lists the traits of that first camel. List them in the left-hand column of a three-column chart. In the center column, write your prediction of what each feature helped camels adapt to. For example, the oversized flapped nostrils might have helped camels survive in a climate where winds blow sand; the nostrils might enable the camel to avoid inhaling the sand. Leave the right-hand column blank for now. It's only after you understand camels' migration routes that you will be able to complete it.
<a href="~/getmedia/98cfbdf8-b8d4-4de7-a609-a27e760be834/ND18-Camel-Migration-Map-web.pdf">Download Camel Migration Map PDF</a>
3. Camels' Migration

The parts of the article that focus on migration are the most complicated. Begin with the central point: None of the world's camels today live in the places where they originated. Use the graphic (above) to guide you through the written text. Identify the locations where camel remains have been found. Then identify the routes by which camels most likely traveled to the parts of the world where find them today.

Go back to the three-column chart you started, where you identified adaptations and predicted what each helped camels adapt to. Now you can complete the third column with information about the environments in which the adaptations initially helped camels survive. Were your predictions correct? Has your understanding changed? If so, how?

Finally, the article doesn't say why it's important to know that camels don't live in the places where they began, and that they migrated to the places they live now. That's something for your to think about and discuss with your classmates. Of course, it's always useful to expand human knowledge with accurate information. But beyond that, what might make the information. But beyond that, what might make the information about the origins of camels and their migration worthwhile? Write a sentence that could appear after the title of the article that states the importance of the findings about their origins.

This lesson meets these Common Core Standards:

RI.9-10.1  Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

SL9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one on one, in groups and teacher led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts and issues, building on the ideas of others and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.