A number of hypotheses exist on many of the key issues regarding the
DOMESTICATION OF THE HORSE. Although horses appeared in Paleolithic
cave art as early as 30,000 BCE, these were wild horses and were
probably hunted for meat . How and when horses became domesticated is
disputed. The clearest evidence of early use of the horse as a means
of transport is from chariot burials dated c. 2000 BCE. However, an
increasing amount of evidence supports the hypothesis that horses were
domesticated in the Eurasian Steppes approximately 3500 BCE; recent
discoveries in the context of the
Botai culture suggest that Botai
settlements in the
Akmola Province of
Kazakhstan are the location of
the earliest domestication of the horse. Regardless of the specific
date of domestication, use of horses spread rapidly across
transportation, agricultural work and warfare .
* 1 Background
* 2 Predecessors to the domestic horse
* 3 Genetic evidence
* 4 Archaeological evidence
* 4.1 Horses interred with chariots
* 4.2 Skeletal indicators of domestication
* 4.4 Bit wear
* 4.5 Dung and corrals
* 4.6 Geographic expansion
* 4.6.1 Other evidence of geographic expansion
Horse images as symbols of power
* 4.8 Artifacts
* 4.9 Horses interred in human graves
* 5 Methods of domestication
* 6 Driving versus riding
* 7 Horses in historic warfare
* 8 See also
* 9 References
* 10 External links
The date of the domestication of the horse depends to some degree
upon the definition of "domestication". Some zoologists define
"domestication" as human control over breeding, which can be detected
in ancient skeletal samples by changes in the size and variability of
ancient horse populations. Other researchers look at broader evidence,
including skeletal and dental evidence of working activity; weapons,
art, and spiritual artifacts; and lifestyle patterns of human
cultures. There is also evidence that horses were kept as meat animals
prior to being trained as working animals .
Attempts to date domestication by genetic study or analysis of
physical remains rests on the assumption that there was a separation
of the genotypes of domesticated and wild populations. Such a
separation appears to have taken place, but dates based on such
methods can only produce an estimate of the latest possible date for
domestication without excluding the possibility of an unknown period
of earlier gene-flow between wild and domestic populations (which will
occur naturally as long as the domesticated population is kept within
the habitat of the wild population). Further, all modern horse
populations retain the ability to revert to a feral state , and all
feral horses are of domestic types; that is, they descend from
ancestors that escaped from captivity.
Whether one adopts the narrower zoological definition of
domestication or the broader cultural definition that rests on an
array of zoological and archaeological evidence affects the time frame
chosen for domestication of the horse. The date of 4000 BCE is based
on evidence that includes the appearance of dental pathologies
associated with bitting, changes in butchering practices, changes in
human economies and settlement patterns, the depiction of horses as
symbols of power in artifacts , and the appearance of horse bones in
human graves. On the other hand, measurable changes in size and
increases in variability associated with domestication occurred later,
about 2500–2000 BCE, as seen in horse remains found at the site of
Hungary , a settlement of the Bell
Beaker culture .
Regardless of the specific date of domestication, use of horses
spread rapidly across
Eurasia for transportation, agricultural work
and warfare . Horses and mules in agriculture used a breastplate type
harness or a yoke more suitable for oxen , which was not as efficient
at utilizing the full strength of the animals as the later-invented
padded horse collar that arose several millennia later.
PREDECESSORS TO THE DOMESTIC HORSE
Evolution of the horse and wild horse Replica of
a horse painting from a cave in
A 2005 study analyzed the mitochondrial
DNA (mtDNA) of a worldwide
range of equids , from 53,000-year-old fossils to contemporary horses.
Their analysis placed all equids into a single clade , or group with
a single common ancestor , consisting of three genetically divergent
Hippidion , the
New World stilt-legged horse , and the true
horse. The true horse, which ranged from western
Europe to eastern
Beringia , included prehistoric horses and the Przewalski\'s
as well as what is now the modern domestic horse, belonged to a single
Holarctic species. A more detailed analysis of the true horses grouped
them into two major clades. One of these clades, which seemed to have
been restricted to North America, is now extinct. The other clade was
broadly distributed from
North America to central Europe, north and
Pleistocene ice sheets. It became extinct in
14,200 years ago, and in the rest of the Americas around 10,000 years
ago. This clade survived in Eurasia, however, and it is from these
horses which all domestic horses appear to have descended. These
horses showed little phylogeographic structure, probably reflecting
their high degree of mobility and adaptability.
Therefore, the domestic horse today is classified as Equus ferus
caballus. No genetic originals of native wild horses currently exist,
other than the never-domesticated Przewalski\'s
Horse . The Przewalski
has 66 chromosomes , however, as opposed to 64 among modern
domesticated horses, and their
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) forms a
distinct cluster. Genetic evidence suggests that modern Przewalski's
horses are descended from a distinct regional gene pool in the eastern
part of the Eurasian steppes, not from the same genetic group that
gave rise to modern domesticated horses. Nevertheless, evidence such
as the cave paintings of
Lascaux suggests that the ancient wild horses
that some researchers now label the "
Tarpan subtype" probably
resembled Przewalski horses in their general appearance: big heads,
dun coloration , thick necks, stiff upright manes , and relatively
short, stout legs. Equus caballus germanicus front leg, teeth
and upper jaw at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
The horses of the
Ice Age were hunted for meat in
Europe and across
the Eurasian steppes and in
North America by early modern humans.
Numerous kill sites exist and many cave paintings in
what they looked like. Many of these
Ice Age subspecies died out
during the rapid climate changes associated with the end of the last
Ice Age or were hunted out by humans, particularly in
North America ,
where the horse became completely extinct .
Classification based on body types and conformation, absent the
DNA for research, once suggested that there were
roughly four basic wild prototypes, thought to have developed with
adaptations to their environment prior to domestication. There were
competing theories; some argued that the four prototypes were separate
species or subspecies, while others suggested that the prototypes were
physically different manifestations of the same species. However,
more recent study indicates that there was only one wild species and
all different body types were entirely a result of selective breeding
or landrace adaptation after domestication. Either way, the most
common theories of prototypes from which all modern breeds are thought
to have developed suggests than in addition to the so-called Tarpan
subtype, there were the following base prototypes:
* The "
Warmblood subspecies" or "Forest
Horse " (once proposed as
Equus ferus silvaticus, also known as the Diluvial Horse), which
evolved into a later variety sometimes called Equus ferus germanicus.
This prototype may have contributed to the development of the
warmblood horses of northern
Europe , as well as older "heavy horses"
such as the
* The "Draft" subspecies, a small, sturdy, heavyset animal with a
heavy hair coat, arising in northern Europe, adapted to cold, damp
climates, somewhat resembling today's draft horse and even the
Shetland pony .
* The "Oriental " subspecies (once proposed as Equus agilis), a
taller, slim, refined and agile animal arising in
Western Asia ,
adapted to hot, dry climates. It is thought to be the progenitor of
Arabian horse and
Only two never-domesticated "wild" groups survived into historic
times, Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalski), and the Tarpan
(Equus ferus ferus). The
Tarpan became extinct in the late 19th
century and Przewalski's horse is endangered ; it became extinct in
the wild during the 1960s, but was re-introduced in the late 1980s to
two preserves in Mongolia. Although researchers such as Marija
Gimbutas theorized that the horses of the
Chalcolithic period were
Przewalski's, more recent genetic studies indicate that Przewalski's
horse is not an ancestor to modern domesticated horses. Other
subspecies of Equus ferus appear to have existed and could have been
the stock from which domesticated horses are descended.
Genomics of domestication and History of horse
A 2014 study compared
DNA from ancient horse bones that predated
domestication and compared them to
DNA of modern horses, discovering
125 genes that correlated to domestication. Some were physical,
affecting muscle and limb development, cardiac strength and balance.
Others were linked to cognitive function and most likely were critical
to the taming of the horse, including social behavior, learning
capabilities, fear response, and agreeableness. The
DNA used in this
study came from horse bones 16,000 to 43,000 years ago, and therefore
the precise changes that occurred at the time of domestication have
yet to be sequenced.
The domestication of stallions and mares can be analyzed separately
by looking at those portions of the
DNA that are passed on exclusively
along the maternal (mitochondrial
DNA or mtDNA) or paternal line
Y-chromosome or Y-DNA).
DNA studies indicate that there may have been
multiple domestication events for mares, as the number of female lines
required to account for the genetic diversity of the modern horse
suggests a minimum of 77 different ancestral mares , divided into 17
distinct lineages. On the other hand, genetic evidence with regard to
the domestication of stallions points at a single domestication event
for a limited number of stallions combined with repeated restocking of
wild females into the domesticated herds.
A study published in 2012 that performed genomic sampling on 300 work
horses from local areas as well as a review of previous studies of
DNA , and Y-
DNA suggested that horses were
originally domesticated in the western part of the Eurasian steppe.
Both domesticated stallions and mares spread out from this area, and
then additional wild mares were added from local herds; wild mares
were easier to handle than wild stallions. Most other parts of the
world were ruled out as sites for horse domestication, either due to
climate unsuitable for an indigenous wild horse population or no
evidence of domestication.
Genes located on the
Y-chromosome are inherited only from sire to its
male offspring and these lines show a very reduced degree of genetic
variation (aka genetic homogeneity) in modern domestic horses, far
less than expected based on the overall genetic variation in the
remaining genetic material. This indicates that a relatively few
stallions were domesticated, and that it is unlikely that many male
offspring originating from unions between wild stallions and domestic
mares were included in early domesticated breeding stock.
Genes located in the mitochondrial
DNA are passed on along the
maternal line from the mother to her offspring. Multiple analyses of
DNA obtained from modern horses as well as from
horse bones and teeth from archaeological and palaeological finds
consistently shows an increased genetic diversity in the mitochondrial
DNA compared to the remaining DNA, showing that a large number of
mares has been included into the breeding stock of the originally
domesticated horse. Variation in the mitochondrial
DNA is used
to determine so-called haplogroups . A haplogroup is a group of
closely related haplotypes that share the same common ancestor. In
horses, seven main haplogroups are recognized (A-G), each with several
subgroups. Several haplogroups are unequally distributed around the
world, indicating the addition of local wild mares to the domesticated
stock. One of these haplotypes (Lusitano group C) is exclusively
found on in
Iberian Peninsula , leading to a hypothesis that the
Iberian peninsula or North Africa was an independent origin for
domestication of the horse. However, until there is additional
analysis of nuclear
DNA and a better understanding of the genetic
structure of the earliest domestic herds, this theory cannot be
confirmed or refuted. It remains possible that a second, independent,
domestication site might exist but, as of 2012, research has neither
confirmed nor disproven that hypothesis .
Even though horse domestication became widespread in a short period
of time, it is still possible that domestication began with a single
culture, which passed on techniques and breeding stock. It is possible
that the two "wild" subspecies remained when all other groups of
once-"wild" horses died out because all others had been, perhaps, more
suitable for taming by humans and the selective breeding that gave
rise to the modern domestic horse.
Hyksos , c. 1600 BCE
Evidence for the domestication of the horse comes from three kinds of
sources: 1) changes in the skeletons and teeth of ancient horses; 2)
changes in the geographic distribution of ancient horses, particularly
the introduction of horses into regions where no wild horses had
existed; and 3) archaeological sites containing artifacts, images, or
evidence of changes in human behavior connected with horses.
Archaeological evidence includes horse remains interred in human
graves ; changes in the ages and sexes of the horses killed by humans;
the appearance of horse corrals ; equipment such as bits or other
types of horse tack ; horses interred with equipment intended for use
by horses, such as chariots ; and depictions of horses used for riding
, driving , draught work , or symbols of human power.
Few of these categories, taken alone, provide irrefutable evidence of
domestication, but combined add up to a persuasive argument.
HORSES INTERRED WITH CHARIOTS
Horse-drawn chariot carved in the
Airavatesvara Temple in
The least ancient, but most persuasive, evidence of domestication
comes from sites where horse leg bones and skulls, probably originally
attached to hides, were interred with the remains of chariots in at
least 16 graves of the
Sintashta and Petrovka cultures. These were
located in the steppes southeast of the
Ural Mountains , between the
upper Ural and upper Tobol Rivers , a region today divided between
Russia and northern
Kazakhstan . Petrovka was a little later
than and probably grew out of Sintashta, and the two complexes
together spanned about 2100–1700 BCE. A few of these graves
contained the remains of as many as eight sacrificed horses placed in,
above, and beside the grave.
In all of the dated chariot graves, the heads and hooves of a pair of
horses were placed in a grave that once contained a chariot. Evidence
of chariots in these graves was inferred from the impressions of two
spoked wheels set in grave floors 1.2–1.6m apart; in most cases the
rest of the vehicle left no trace. In addition a pair of disk-shaped
antler "cheekpieces," an ancient predecessor to a modern bit shank or
bit ring , were placed in pairs beside each horse head-and-hoof
sacrifice. The inner faces of the disks had protruding prongs or studs
that would have pressed against the horse's lips when the reins were
pulled on the opposite side. Studded cheekpieces were a new and fairly
severe kind of control device that appeared simultaneously with
All of the dated chariot graves contained wheel impressions, horse
bones, weapons (arrow and javelin points, axes, daggers, or stone
mace-heads), human skeletal remains, and cheekpieces. Because they
were buried in teams of two with chariots and studded cheekpieces, the
evidence is extremely persuasive that these steppe horses of
2100–1700 BCE were domesticated. Shortly after the period of these
burials, the expansion of the domestic horse throughout
little short of explosive. In the space of possibly 500 years, there
is evidence of horse-drawn chariots in Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.
By another 500 years, the horse-drawn chariot had spread to China.
SKELETAL INDICATORS OF DOMESTICATION
Some researchers do not consider an animal to be "domesticated" until
it exhibits physical changes consistent with selective breeding , or
at least having been born and raised entirely in captivity. Until that
point, they classify captive animals as merely "tamed". Those who hold
to this theory of domestication point to a change in skeletal
measurements was detected among horse bones recovered from middens
dated about 2500 BCE in eastern
Hungary in Bell-Beaker sites, and in
Bronze Age sites in the Russian steppes,
Spain , and eastern
Horse bones from these contexts exhibited an increase in
variability, thought to reflect the survival under human care of both
larger and smaller individuals than appeared in the wild; and a
decrease in average size, thought to reflect penning and restriction
Horse populations that showed this combination of skeletal
changes probably were domesticated. Most evidence suggests that horses
were increasingly controlled by humans after about 2500 BCE. However,
more recently there have been skeletal remains found at a site in
Kazakhstan which display the smaller, more slender limbs
characteristic of corralled animals, dated to 3500 BCE.
Some of the most intriguing evidence of early domestication comes
Botai culture , found in northern
Kazakhstan . The Botai
culture was a culture of foragers who seem to have adopted horseback
riding in order to hunt the abundant wild horses of northern
Kazakhstan between 3500–3000 BCE.
Botai sites had no cattle or
sheep bones; the only domesticated animals, in addition to horses,
were dogs .
Botai settlements in this period contained between
50–150 pit houses. Garbage deposits contained tens to hundreds of
thousands of discarded animal bones, 65% to 99% of which had come from
horses. Also, there has been evidence found of horse milking at these
sites, with horse milk fats soaked into pottery shards dating to 3500
BCE. Earlier hunter-gatherers who lived in the same region had not
hunted wild horses with such success, and lived for millennia in
smaller, more shifting settlements, often containing less than 200
wild animal bones.
Entire herds of horses were slaughtered by the
apparently in hunting drives. The adoption of horseback riding might
explain the emergence of specialized horse-hunting techniques and
larger, more permanent settlements. Domesticated horses could have
been adopted from neighboring herding societies in the steppes west of
the Ural Mountains, where the
Khvalynsk culture had herds of cattle
and sheep, and perhaps had domesticated horses, as early as 4800 BCE.
Other researchers have argued that all of the
Botai horses were wild,
and that the horse-hunters of
Botai hunted wild horses on foot. As
evidence, they note that zoologists have found no skeletal changes in
Botai horses that indicate domestication. Moreover, because they
were hunted for food, the majority of the horse remains found in
Botai-culture settlements indeed probably were wild. On the other
hand, any domesticated riding horses were probably the same size as
their wild cousins and cannot now be distinguished by bone
measurements. They also note that the age structure of the horses
Botai represents a natural demographic profile for
hunted animals, not the pattern expected if they were domesticated and
selected for slaughter. However, these arguments were published prior
to the discovery of a corral at Krasnyi Yar and mats of horse-dung at
Luristan bronze horse bit
The presence of bit wear suggest that a horse was ridden or driven,
and the earliest of such evidence from a site in
Kazakhstan dates to
3500 BCE. Because horses can be ridden and controlled without bits by
using a noseband or a hackamore , and such tools are used even today,
the absence of bit wear on horse teeth is not conclusive evidence
against domestication, but such materials do not produce significant
physiological changes nor are they apt to be preserved for millennia.
The regular use of a bit to control a horse can create wear facets or
bevels on the anterior corners of the lower second premolars . The
corners of the horse's mouth normally keep the bit on the "bars" of
the mouth, an interdental space where there are no teeth, forward of
the premolars. The bit must be manipulated by a human or the horse
must move it with its tongue for it to touch the teeth. Wear can be
caused by the bit abrading the front corners of the premolars if the
horse grasps and releases the bit between its teeth ; other wear can
be created by the bit striking the vertical front edge of the lower
premolars, due to very strong pressure from a human handler.
Modern experiments showed that even organic bits of rope or leather
can create significant wear facets, and also showed that facets 3 mm
deep or more do not appear on the premolars of wild horses . However,
other researchers disputed both conclusions.
Wear facets of 3 mm or more also were found on seven horse premolars
in two sites of the
Botai and Kozhai 1, dated about
3500–3000 BCE. The
Botai culture premolars are the earliest
reported multiple examples of this dental pathology in any
archaeological site, and preceded any skeletal change indicators by
1,000 years. While wear facets more than 3 mm deep were discovered on
the lower second premolars of a single stallion from
Ukraine , an
Eneolithic settlement dated about 4000 BCE, dental
material from one of the worn teeth later produced a radiocarbon date
of 700–200 BCE, indicating that this stallion was actually deposited
in a pit dug into the older
Eneolithic site during the
Iron Age .
DUNG AND CORRALS
Soil scientists working with Sandra Olsen of the Carnegie Museum of
Natural History at the
Chalcolithic (also called Eneolithic, or
"Copper Age") settlements of
Botai and Krasnyi Yar in northern
Kazakhstan found layers of horse dung , discarded in unused house pits
in both settlements. The collection and disposal of horse dung
suggests that horses were confined in corrals or stables . An actual
corral, dated to 3500–3000 BCE was identified at Krasnyi Yar by a
pattern of post holes for a circular fence , with the soils inside the
fence yielding ten times more phosphorus than the soils outside. The
phosphorus could represent the remains of manure.
The appearance of horse remains in human settlements in regions where
they had not previously been present is another indicator of
domestication. Although images of horses appear as early as the Upper
Paleolithic period in places such as the caves of
Lascaux , France,
suggesting that wild horses lived in regions outside of the Eurasian
steppes prior to domestication and may have even been hunted by early
humans, concentration of remains suggests animals being deliberately
captured and contained, an indicator of domestication, at least for
food, if not necessarily use as a working animal.
Around 3500–3000 BCE, horse bones began to appear more frequently
in archaeological sites beyond their center of distribution in the
Eurasian steppes and were seen in central
Europe , the middle and
Danube valley, and the North
Caucasus and Transcaucasia .
Evidence of horses in these areas had been rare before, and as numbers
increased, larger animals also began to appear in horse remains. This
expansion in range was contemporary with the
Botai culture, where
there are indications that horses were corralled and ridden. This does
not necessarily mean that horses were first domesticated in the
steppes, but the horse-hunters of the steppes certainly pursued wild
horses more than in any other region. This geographic expansion is
interpreted by many zoologists as an early phase in the spread of
European wild horses were hunted for up to 10% of the animal bones in
a handful of
Neolithic settlements scattered across
France , and the marshlands of northern
Germany , but in many
other parts of Europe, including
Greece , the
Balkans , the British
Isles , and much of central Europe, horse bones do not occur or occur
very rarely in Mesolithic,
Chalcolithic sites. In
contrast, wild horse bones regularly exceeded 40% of the identified
animal bones in
Neolithic camps in the Eurasian
steppes, west of the Ural Mountains.
Horse bones were rare or absent in
garbage in western
Mesopotamia , most of
Iran , South and
Asia , and much of Europe. While horse bones have been
Neolithic sites in central Turkey, all equids together
totaled less than 3% of the animal bones. Within this three percent,
horses were less than 10%, with 90% or more of the equids represented
by onagers (Equus hemionus) or another ass-like equid that later
Equus hydruntinus . Onagers were the most common
native wild equids of the Near East. They were hunted in
Iran , and Central Asia; and domesticated
Equus asinus ) were imported into Mesopotamia, probably from
Egypt , but wild horses apparently did not live there.
Other Evidence Of Geographic Expansion
Caucasus , the
Maikop culture settlements and burials of
c. 3300 BC contain both horse bones and images of horses. A frieze of
nineteen horses painted in black and red colors is found in one of the
Maikop graves. The widespread appearance of horse bones and images in
Maikop sites suggest to some observers that horseback riding began in
the Maikop period.
Later, images of horses, identified by their short ears, flowing
manes, and tails that bushed out at the dock, began to appear in
artistic media in
Mesopotamia during the Akkadian period, 2300-2100
BCE. The word for "horse", literally translated as ass of the
mountains, first appeared in Sumerian documents during the Third
dynasty of Ur , about 2100-2000 BCE. The kings of the Third Dynasty
of Ur apparently fed horses to lions for royal entertainment, perhaps
indicating that horses were still regarded as more exotic than useful,
Shulgi , about 2050 BCE, compared himself to "a horse of the
highway that swishes its tail", and one image from his reign showed a
man apparently riding a horse at full gallop. Horses were imported
Mesopotamia and the lowland
Near East in larger numbers after
2000 BCE in connection with the beginning of chariot warfare .
A further expansion, into the lowland
Near East and northwestern
China , also happened around 2000 BCE, again apparently in conjunction
with the chariot. Although Equus bones of uncertain species are found
in some Late
Neolithic sites in
China dated before 2000 BCE, Equus
caballus or Equus ferus bones first appeared in multiple sites and in
significant numbers in sites of the Qijia and Siba cultures, 2000-1600
Gansu and the northwestern provinces of China. The Qijia
culture was in contact with cultures of the Eurasian steppes, as shown
through similarities between Qijia and Late
Bronze Age steppe
metallurgy , so it was probably through these contacts that
domesticated horses first became frequent in northwestern China.
In 2008, archaeologists announced the discovery of rock art in
Somalia 's northern
Dhambalin region, which the researchers suggest is
one of the earliest known depictions of a hunter on horseback. The
rock art is in the Ethiopian-Arabian style, dated to 1000 to 3000 BCE.
HORSE IMAGES AS SYMBOLS OF POWER
About 4200-4000 BCE, more than 500 years before the geographic
expansion evidenced by the presence of horse bones, new kinds of
graves, named after a grave at
Suvorovo , appeared north of the Danube
delta in the coastal steppes of
were similar to and probably derived from earlier funeral traditions
in the steppes around the
Dnieper River . Some
contained polished stone mace-heads shaped like horse heads and horse
tooth beads. Earlier steppe graves also had contained polished stone
mace-heads, some of them carved in the shape of animal heads.
Settlements in the steppes contemporary with Suvorovo, such as Sredni
Stog II and
Dereivka on the Dnieper River, contained 12%-52% horse
Suvorovo graves appeared in the
Danube delta grasslands,
horse-head maces also appeared in some of the indigenous farming towns
Tripolye and Gumelnitsa cultures in present-day
Moldova , near the
Suvorovo graves. These agricultural cultures had
not previously used polished-stone maces, and horse bones were rare or
absent in their settlement sites. Probably their horse-head maces came
Suvorovo immigrants. The
Suvorovo people in turn acquired
many copper ornaments from the
Tripolye and Gumelnitsa towns. After
this episode of contact and trade, but still during the period
4200-4000 BCE, about 600 agricultural towns in the
Balkans and the
Danube valley, some of which had been occupied for 2000 years,
were abandoned. Copper mining ceased in the Balkan copper mines, and
the cultural traditions associated with the agricultural towns were
terminated in the
Balkans and the lower
Danube valley. This collapse
of "Old Europe" has been attributed to the immigration of mounted
Indo-European warriors . The collapse could have been caused by
intensified warfare, for which there is some evidence; and warfare
could have been worsened by mounted raiding; and the horse-head maces
have been interpreted as indicating the introduction of domesticated
horses and riding just before the collapse.
However, mounted raiding is just one possible explanation for this
complex event. Environmental deterioration, ecological degradation
from millennia of farming, and the exhaustion of easily mined oxide
copper ores also are cited as causal factors.
Perforated antler objects discovered at
Dereivka and other sites
Suvorovo have been identified as cheekpieces or
‘’psalia’’ for horse bits . This identification is no longer
widely accepted, as the objects in question have not been found
associated with horse bones, and could have had a variety of other
functions. However, through studies of microscopic wear, it has been
established that many of the bone tools at
Botai were used to smooth
rawhide thongs, and rawhide thongs might have been used to manufacture
of rawhide cords and ropes, useful for horse tack . Similar bone
thong-smoothers are known from many other steppe settlements, but it
cannot be known how the thongs were used. The oldest artifacts clearly
identified as horse tack—bits, bridles , cheekpieces, or any other
kind of horse gear—are the antler disk-shaped cheekpieces associated
with the invention of the chariot, at the
HORSES INTERRED IN HUMAN GRAVES
The oldest possible archaeological indicator of a changed
relationship between horses and humans is the appearance about
4800-4400 BCE of horse bones and carved images of horses in
Chalcolithic graves of the early
Khvalynsk culture and the Samara
culture in the middle Volga region of Russia. At the Khvalynsk
cemetery near the town of
Khvalynsk , 158 graves of this period were
excavated. Of these, 26 graves contained parts of sacrificed domestic
animals, and additional sacrifices occurred in ritual deposits on the
original ground surface above the graves. Ten graves contained parts
of lower horse legs; two of these also contained the bones of
domesticated cattle and sheep. At least 52 domesticated sheep or goats
, 23 domesticated cattle, and 11 horses were sacrificed at Khvalynsk.
The inclusion of horses with cattle and sheep and the exclusion of
obviously wild animals together suggest that horses were categorized
symbolically with domesticated animals.
At S’yezzhe, a contemporary cemetery of the Samara culture, parts
of two horses were placed above a group of human graves. The pair of
horses here was represented by the head and hooves, probably
originally attached to hides. The same ritual—using the hide with
the head and lower leg bones as a symbol for the whole animal—was
used for many domesticated cattle and sheep sacrifices at Khvalynsk.
Horse images carved from bone were placed in the above-ground ochre
deposit at S’yezzhe and occurred at several other sites of the same
period in the middle and lower Volga region. Together these
archaeological clues suggest that horses had a symbolic importance in
Khvalynsk and Samara cultures that they had lacked earlier, and
that they were associated with humans, domesticated cattle, and
domesticated sheep. Thus, the earliest phase in the domestication of
the horse might have begun during the period 4800-4400 BCE.
METHODS OF DOMESTICATION
Equidae died out in the
Western Hemisphere at the end of the last
glacial period . A question raised is why and how horses avoided this
fate on the Eurasian continent. It has been theorized that
domestication saved the species. While the environmental conditions
for equine survival in
Europe were somewhat more favorable in Eurasia
than in the Americas, the same stressors that led to extinction for
Mammoth had an effect upon horse populations. Thus, some time
after 8000 BCE, the approximate date of extinction in the Americas,
Eurasia may have begun to keep horses as a livestock food
source, and by keeping them in captivity, may have helped to preserve
the species. Horses also fit the six core criteria for livestock
domestication , and thus, it could be argued, "chose" to live in close
proximity to humans.
One model of horse domestication starts with individual foals being
kept as pets while the adult horses were slaughtered for meat. Foals
are relatively small and easy to handle. Horses behave as herd animals
and need companionship to thrive. Both historic and modern data shows
that foals can and will bond to humans and other domestic animals to
meet their social needs. Thus domestication may have started with
young horses being repeatedly made into pets over time, preceding the
great discovery that these pets could be ridden or otherwise put to
However, there is disagreement over the definition of the term
domestication. One interpretation of domestication is that it must
include physiological changes associated with being selectively bred
in captivity, and not merely "tamed." It has been noted that
traditional peoples worldwide (both hunter-gatherers and
horticulturists ) routinely tame individuals from wild species,
typically by hand-rearing infants whose parents have been killed, and
these animals are not necessarily "domesticated."
On the other hand, some researchers look to examples from historical
times to hypothesize how domestication occurred. For example, while
Native American cultures captured and rode horses from the 16th
century on, most tribes did not exert significant control over their
breeding, thus their horses developed a genotype and phenotype adapted
to the uses and climatological conditions in which they were kept,
making them more of a landrace than a planned breed as defined by
modern standards, but nonetheless "domesticated".
DRIVING VERSUS RIDING
A difficult question is if domesticated horses were first ridden or
driven. While the most unequivocal evidence shows horses first being
used to pull chariots in warfare, there is strong, though indirect,
evidence for riding occurring first, particularly by the Botai. Bit
wear may correlate to riding, though, as the modern hackamore
demonstrates, horses can be ridden without a bit by using rope and
other evanescent materials to make equipment that fastens around the
nose. So the absence of unequivocal evidence of early riding in the
record does not settle the question.
Thus, on one hand, logic suggests that horses would have been ridden
long before they were driven. But it is also far more difficult to
gather evidence of this, as the materials required for riding—simple
hackamores or blankets—would not survive as artifacts, and other
than tooth wear from a bit , the skeletal changes in an animal that
was ridden would not necessarily be particularly noticeable. Direct
evidence of horses being driven is much stronger.
On the other hand, others argue that evidence of bit wear does not
necessarily correlate to riding. Some theorists speculate that a horse
could have been controlled from the ground by placing a bit in the
mouth, connected to a lead rope, and leading the animal while pulling
a primitive wagon or plow . Since oxen were usually relegated to this
duty in Mesopotamia, it is possible that early plows might have been
attempted with the horse, and a bit may indeed have been significant
as part of agrarian development rather than as warfare technology.
HORSES IN HISTORIC WARFARE
Horses in warfare Depiction of a mounted warrior
Pazyryk burials , c. 300 BCE
While riding may have been practiced during the 4th and 3rd millennia
BCE, and the disappearance of "Old European" settlements may be
related to attacks by horseback-mounted warriors, the clearest
influence by horses on ancient warfare was by pulling chariots ,
introduced c. 2000 BCE.
Horses in the
Bronze Age were relatively small by modern standards,
which led some theorists to believe the ancient horses were too small
to be ridden and so must have been driven. Herodotus' description of
Sigynnae , a steppe people who bred horses too small to ride but
extremely efficient at drawing chariots, illustrates this stage.
However, as horses remained generally smaller than modern equines well
Middle Ages , this theory is highly questionable.
Iron Age in
Mesopotamia saw the rise of mounted cavalry as a tool
of war, as evidenced by the notable successes of mounted archer
tactics used by various invading equestrian nomads such as the
Parthians . Over time, the chariot gradually became obsolete.
The horse of the
Iron Age was still relatively small, perhaps 12.2 to
14.2 hands (50 to 58 inches, 127 to 147 cm) high (measured at the
withers .) This was shorter overall than the average height of modern
riding horses, which range from about 14.2 to 17.2 hands (58 to 70
inches, 147 to 178 cm). However, small horses were used successfully
as light cavalry for many centuries. For example, Fell ponies ,
believed to be descended from Roman cavalry horses, are comfortably
able to carry fully grown adults (although with rather limited ground
clearance) at an average height of 13.2 hands (54 inches, 137 cm)
Arabian horse is noted for a short back and dense bone,
and the successes of the Muslims against the heavy mounted knights of
Europe demonstrated that a horse standing 14.2 hands (58 inches, 147
cm) can easily carry a full-grown human adult into battle.
Mounted warriors such as the
Vandals of late
Roman antiquity, the
Mongols who invaded eastern
Europe in the 7th
century through 14th centuries CE, the
Muslim warriors of the 8th
through 14th centuries CE, and the American Indians in the 16th
through 19th centuries each demonstrated effective forms of light
List of horse breeds
List of horse breeds
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