Powerful Ancestor of Modern Horses Discovered Through Genetic Tracing

(Madison Hooper/Getty Images)
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(Madison Hooper/Getty Images)

Highlights

  • The ancient habitat of all current domestic horses was likely located along the steppes of Western Eurasia roughly 4,200 years ago.
  • The findings show that as domestic horses spread across Eurasia, their forefathers displaced nearly all other horse populations.

According to new genomic studies, the ancient habitat of all current domestic horses was likely located along the steppes of Western Eurasia roughly 4,200 years ago. Within a thousand years, the powerful and docile horses raised in what is now modern Russia appear to have displaced all other European and Asian breeds.

Researchers discovered that current domestic horses were clustered in a group that became geographically widespread in the second millennium BCE after mapping the population changes of 273 ancient horse genomes, each from a plausible location for horse domestication. The findings show that as domestic horses spread across Eurasia, their forefathers displaced nearly all other horse populations.

Horse travel had officially gone global by 1000 BCE, radically altering human movement, culture, and conflict.
Although ancient horses grown in Russia's lower Volga-Don region were not the first to be tamed by humans (earlier examples of horse riding may be found in Central Asia, Iberia, and Anatolia), their genetic profile appears to have been the most useful to humans.
Finally, horses living in the Western Eurasian steppes before and during the third millennium BCE shared the strongest genetic similarities with this cluster.
Decentralized chiefdoms in Europe and urbanised states in Western Asia were likely to adopt this new institution for different reasons, whether for warfare, prestige, or both. As a result, the findings open up new areas for inquiry into the historical evolution of these various socioeconomic paths.
Horses born in this ancient section of Russia have two critical genes that appear to distinguish them from other populations of the period. GSDMC is associated to more docile demeanour, while ZFPM1 is linked to a stronger backbone.
Both genes indicate that the horses were bred for riding, with excellent endurance and weight-bearing capabilities, as well as a calm and trusting demeanour.
The findings add to a growing body of evidence refuting the popular belief that horseback riding was introduced to Europe by nomadic herders from the East some 5000 years ago.
Domesticated horses may have displaced all other groups between 1500 and 1000 BCE, according to genetic evidence. The 'ideal' horse had been created by humans.
As per the authors, this process began with horseback riding, with spoke-wheeled chariots coming later in the Trans-Ural Sintashta culture approximately 2000 to 1800 BCE.
Increased aridity and competition for key grazing pastures may have prompted this culture's armament, warriors, and fortified villages.
Horses with fewer back pathologies and increased docility, the authors believe, would have facilitated Bronze Age elite long-distance trading demands and become a highly coveted commodity and status symbol, resulting in fast diaspora in both cases.

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