Posted by: kshayes513 | December 1, 2009

The First Horse People?

The domestication of the horse was one of the great advances of human culture. Horses gave humans extraordinary mobility and led to developments in herding, agriculture, warfare, sport, etc.  Now there’s new evidence from a dig in Kazakhstan, that horses were domesticated in Asia by 5,500 years ago, which is 1,000 years earlier than any previous evidence, and 2,000 years earlier than in Europe.

Reconstruction of the tarpan, or wild European horse, Equus ferus. Illustration by Daniel Pickering, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The Kazakhstan site has been studied for over a decade, and some archaeologists were convinced that the high number of horse bones both as food and as sacrifices, plus tools that could be used for making harnesses, were convincing enough. Others were skeptical, partly because the bones found at the site were nearly indistinguishable from the bones of wild horses. Recently though, some subtle differences were found in the leg bones at the site, which were slightly closer to domestic horse bones than wild ones – an indication of the start of the selective breeding that has made the modern horse so different from its ancestor the tarpan (though I once had a pony that looked a bit like a tarpan, especially in winter!).

The final evidence came with new techniques to study pottery, which proved conclusively that some of the pottery vessels had held mares’ milk. Even the skeptics couldn’t imagine milking a wild mare! (The Kazakhs are still horse people like their ancestors: both articles below have a photos of a Kazakh woman milking a mare)

You can read two news articles about the discovery on LiveScience.com. The first story is here, and a recent story by one of the research team is here.

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Responses

  1. There have been so many articles of late re-dating such important events as the domestication of dogs, weaving, people coming to North America. Not to mention all the discoveries and reinterpretation of Neanderthal finds. I doubt if they have it right yet.


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