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NYTimes on Horse Domestication

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    Also: The new President of Dartmuth is an MD with a PhD in Medical anthro (or, I suppose a PhD in anthro with an MD) March 6, 2009 Earlier Date Suggested
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 5, 2009
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      Also: The new President of Dartmuth is an MD with a PhD in Medical
      anthro (or, I suppose a PhD in anthro with an MD) <g>

      March 6, 2009

      Earlier Date Suggested for Horse Domestication


      It's a long way from Kazakhstan to Kentucky, but the journey to the
      Derby may have started among a pastoral people on the Kazakh steppes who
      appear to have been the first to domesticate, bridle and perhaps ride
      horses - around 3500 B.C., a millennium earlier than previously thought.

      Archaeologists say the discovery may revise thinking about the
      development of some preagricultural Eurasian societies and put an
      earlier date to their dispersal into Europe and elsewhere. These
      migrations are believed to have been associated with horse domestication
      and the spread of Indo-European languages.

      At the least, on the first Saturday in May the winning thoroughbred
      should perhaps be toasted not with a julep but a taste of koumiss, the
      fermented mare's milk favored by equestrians in Central Asia. It's an
      acquired taste, so keep bourbon at the ready.

      Evidence for the earlier date for equine domestication is described
      Friday in the journal Science by an international team of
      archaeologists. The report's lead author is Alan K. Outram of the
      University of Exeter in England.

      The archaeologists wrote of uncovering ample horse bones and artifacts
      from which they derived "three independent lines of evidence
      demonstrating domestication" of horses by the semi-sedentary Botai
      culture, which occupied sites in northern Kazakhstan for six centuries,
      beginning at about 3600 B.C.

      The shape and size of the skeletons from four sites was analyzed and
      compared with bones of wild horses in the region from the same time,
      with domestic horses from centuries later in the Bronze Age and with
      Mongolian domestic horses. The researchers said the Botai animals were
      "appreciably more slender" than robust wild horses and more similar to
      domestic horses.

      Dr. Outram said in an interview that it was not clear from the research
      if the breeding of the tamed Botai horses had by then led to the origin
      of a genetically distinct new species. But their physical attributes
      were strikingly different, he added, and this made the animals more
      useful to the people as meat, sources of milk and beasts of burden and

      The second pieces of evidence were the marks on the horses' teeth and
      damage to skeletal tissue in the mouths. The researchers said this was
      caused by the wear of mouthpieces, bits, inserted for harnessing with a
      bridle or similar restraint to control working animals.

      Other archaeologists, digging at other sites, have detected similar
      traces of what they said was bit wear, but this has been disputed as
      support for domestication. Dr. Outram said that some of the damage to
      the Botai teeth and jaw bones could only have been caused by bit wear.

      Botai pottery yielded the third strands of evidence. Embedded in the
      clay pots were residues of carcass fat and fatty acids that "very
      likely" came from mare's milk, the researchers said. This "confirms that
      at least some of the mares of Botai were domesticated," they concluded.

      Just when and where domestication of horses first occurred have long
      puzzled archaeologists. Most of their investigations have concentrated
      on the steppes of Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan, where wild horses were
      abundant for thousands of years, and burials included the skeletons of
      prized stallions and early chariots.

      In his authoritative book, "The Horse, the Wheel and Languages," David
      W. Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N. Y., said
      in 2007 that some of the best evidence put the beginning of horse
      domestication in the region at about 2500 B.C. He could not be reached
      for comment on the new findings.

      Earlier excavations at Botai sites, conducted by Victor Zaibert of
      Kokshetau University in Kazakhstan, uncovered piles of horse bones and
      settlement remains of a people who hunted and herded wild horses for
      their meat. Dr. Zaibert and Sandra Olsen of the Carnegie Museum of
      Natural History in Pittsburgh also found traces of bit wear that first
      raised the possibility that some Botai horses had been harnessed for
      work and riding.

      Both Dr. Zaibert and Dr. Olsen are members of the current excavation
      team that may have fixed the early time and place for the beginning of
      the horse-human relationship - a relationship that, as Dr. Outram said,
      has had "immense social and economic significance, advancing
      communications, transport, food production and warfare."

      Ann Popplestone AAB, BA, MA

      CALS TLC Metro CCC


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