The moment domesticated horses changed the course of human history is now revealed

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Tracing when and where horses were domesticated has been incredibly difficult because it is a less pronounced change than animals such as domesticated animals, which experienced a change in size. Instead, the researchers had to work away from indirect evidence, such as tooth damage, that suggests halter wear or even horse symbolism across cultures, said lead study author and paleogeneticist Ludovic Orlando, French National Director of Research at the Center for Anthropobiology and Genomics. Paul Sabatier in Toulouse – France for the University of Toulouse.

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Study co-author William Taylor said, “Tracing human activity in the archaeological record is a difficult task, and even more difficult when it comes to reconstructing ancient relationships with horses, of which we often only have fragmentary material.” such as the bones of a horse, are available for study.” Assistant Professor and Curator of Archeology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

With this latest study, an international team of scientists collected and sequenced genomes from the remains of 273 ancient horses found in Europe and Asia and compared them with the DNA of modern horses to determine their origins.


The Critical Window to Domesticating a Horse

Previous research suggested that the original home of domesticated horses was at the Botai site, in what is today northern Kazakhstan in Central Asia, as this provided the earliest archaeological evidence of these animals. But DNA told a different story. Botai horses that lived 5,500 years ago could not be traced to modern domestic horses. Other possible origin sites in Anatolia, Siberia and the Iberian Peninsula did not rule out either.

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Orlando and his team knew that the time period between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago was an important window for investigation when horses were domesticated due to the dating of ancient horse remains, “but no smoking gun was ever found.” ,” They said.

Researchers broadened the finding to provide a bigger picture by studying the DNA of ancient horses that lived between 50,000 BCE and 200 BCE. When this was compared to the DNA of a modern domestic horse, the team was able to pinpoint a time and place.

“The domestication of the horse was an absolute lightning strike in human history, causing incredible, widespread and lasting social changes throughout the ancient world,” Taylor said. “Horses were an order of magnitude faster than many transportation systems of prehistoric Eurasia, allowing people to travel, communicate, trade and raid distances that would have been previously unimaginable.”

breeding of domestic horses

Researchers said Eurasia was once home to genetically distinct horse populations, but a dramatic change occurred between 2000 BCE and 2200 BCE. A dominant genetic horse population appeared east of the Dnieper River within the Don and Volga basins, on the West Eurasian Pontic-Caspian Steppe of the North Caucasus. The region is now part of Russia.

This horse population then spread and within centuries replaced wild horse groups roaming Eurasia.

“What our data show is that 4,600-4,200 years ago, herders based in the Don-Volga region found a way to increase the local horse breeding pool,” Orlando said. “That means they can reproduce more and more horses like this over generations. They also selected horses with specific traits.”

There was evidence of domestication within the horses’ DNA, including genes associated with more docile behavior, endurance, stress resilience and a stronger spine to support more weight. All of these are associated with horse riding in modern animals.

The jaws of this horse were excavated in June at the Ginrup archaeological site in Denmark.

Horse riding, as well as the invention of spoke-wheeled war chariots, likely enabled these horses to replace other populations within 500 years – and change human mobility and warfare forever.

“The reason we are so interested in horses is that they can possibly be considered one of the animals that most influenced human history,” Orlando said. “The close relationship we developed with this animal lasted until the early 20th century, a time when motor engines took over transport.”

In the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, said Taylor, horse-drawn chariots probably spread through trade and military conquest because horses were so important as transport animals. In places such as Central and East Asia, horses also served a valuable purpose as livestock and traveled with migratory horses.

This image shows a farmer holding horses in north-central Kazakhstan.

Technique to trace the origin of the domestic horse

Depending on the environments where horses lived, “the domestication of horses transformed the steppes and prairies of the world into cultural centers, population centers and political powerhouses,” Taylor said. “Almost everywhere they were introduced, from the plains of Asia to the Great Plains or the Pampas of the Americas, they changed human societies almost immediately.”

Horses are shown running in the steps of Inner Mongolia, China in 2019.
Orlando and his team used innovative DNA techniques to differentiate this early horse population from many others. Researchers want to finally understand how horses were domesticated, something Orlando and his colleagues are focusing on Pegasus Project. It may also have helped them learn how domestic horses were introduced to North and South America.
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“Even though we now know (where) domestic horses first emerged, the entire process of their expansion around the world and their breeding history into the hundreds of different types we know today remains controversial,” Orlando said.

“In addition, the horse was the animal of farmers, warriors and kings alike; they were found in rural and urban contexts alike, and in extremely diverse environments, from the coldest Siberian ranges to the Nepalese mountains. We want to track How these different contexts have shaped horse biology.”


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