Now when domesticated horses changed the course of human history – .

Now when domesticated horses changed the course of human history – .

It has been incredibly difficult to determine when and where the domestication of horses occurred, as it is a less obvious change than that seen with animals like domesticated cattle, which experienced a change in size. Instead, the researchers had to work from circumstantial evidence, such as dental damage suggesting the wearing of bridles or even the symbolism of the horse across cultures, said lead author of the study and paleogeneticist Ludovic. Orlando, research director at the French National Center for Anthropobiology and Genomics in Toulouse for the University of Toulouse – Paul Sabatier in France.

“Tracing human activity in archaeological records is a difficult task, and even more difficult when it comes to reconstructing ancient relationships with horses, from which we often only have fragmented material, such as bones. horse, available for study, ”said study co-author William Taylor. , 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 the genomes of the remains of 273 ancient horses found in Europe and Asia and compared them to the DNA of modern horses to determine their origin.

Critical window for the domestication of the horse

Previous research has suggested that the original home of the domesticated horses was at the Botai site in what is now northern Kazakhstan, Central Asia, as it provided the oldest archaeological evidence for these animals. . But DNA told a different story. Botai horses, which lived 5,500 years ago, could not be traced to modern domestic horses. Other potential origin sites in Anatolia, Siberia and the Iberian Peninsula also did not work.

Orlando and his team knew that the period between 4,000 and 6,000 years was a critical window for investigating when horses were domesticated due to the dating of ancient horse remains, “but no smoking guns. could never be found, ”he said.

The researchers broadened the search to provide a larger picture, studying the DNA of ancient horses that lived between 50,000 BC and 200 BC. When this was compared to the DNA of the modern domestic horse, the team were able to identify a time and place.

“The domestication of the horse was an absolute thunderbolt in human history, resulting in incredible, widespread, and lasting social transformations throughout the ancient world,” Taylor said. “Horses were orders of magnitude faster than many transportation systems in prehistoric Eurasia, allowing people to travel, communicate, trade, and raid over distances that would have been unthinkable before. “

The spread of domestic horses

Eurasia was once home to genetically distinct horse populations, but a dramatic change occurred between 2000 BC and 2200 BC, the researchers said. A dominant genetic population of horses appeared in the western Eurasian Pontic-Caspian steppe of the North Caucasus, east of the Dnieper River in the Don and Volga basins. This area is now part of Russia.

This horse population then expanded and replaced the groups of wild horses that roamed Eurasia over the centuries.

“What our data shows is that 4,600 to 4,200 years ago, breeders in the Don-Volga region found a way to increase the breeding ground for local horses,” said Orlando. . “This means that they could breed more and more such horses generation after generation. They also selected horses with specific traits. “

In the DNA of horses, there was evidence of domestication, including genes associated with more docile behavior, endurance, resistance to stress, and a stronger spine to support more weight. All of these are related to horseback riding in modern animals.

Horseback riding, along with the invention of wire-wheeled war chariots, likely allowed these horses to replace other populations in 500 years – and forever changed human mobility and warfare.

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

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

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

Techniques to trace the origins of domestic horses

Based on the environments the horses lived in, “the domestication of horses has made the steppes and grasslands of the world into cultural centers, population centers and political powers,” Taylor said. “Almost everywhere they were introduced, from the steppes of Asia to the Great Plains or the Pampas of the Americas, they almost immediately reshaped human societies.

Horses are pictured running in the steppes of Inner Mongolia, China, in 2019.

Orlando and his team used innovative DNA techniques to distinguish this first population of horses from so many others. Researchers ultimately want to understand the entirety of how horses were domesticated, which Orlando and his colleagues are focusing on as part of Project Pegasus. It could also help 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 appeared, the whole process of their expansion around the world and their history of breeding into the hundreds of different types we know today remains. controversial, ”said Orlando.

“Moreover, the horse was also the animal of farmers, warriors and kings; it was found in both rural and urban contexts, and in extremely diverse environments, from the coldest Siberian range to the Nepalese mountains. We want to follow how these different contexts have reshaped the biology of the horse. “


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