New study reveals that domesticated horses may have originally come from Russia

A horse is horse, of course, but what is the source of the horse we endorse? According to a recent scientific study published in Nature which analyzed the genomes of nearly 300 ancient horses over the courses of their forces, the earliest equines probably came from southern Russia, near the intersections of the Volga and Don Rivers, some 4000 years ago or so.

Domestication of horses fundamentally transformed long-range mobility and warfare. However, modern domesticated breeds do not descend from the earliest domestic horse lineage associated with archaeological evidence of bridling, milking and corralling at Botai, Central Asia around 3500 BC. Thus, the genetic, geographic and temporal origins of modern domestic horses have remained unknown. Here we pinpoint the Western Eurasian steppes, especially the lower Volga-Don region, as the homeland of modern domestic horses.

Furthermore, we map the population changes accompanying domestication from 273 ancient horse genomes. This reveals that modern domestic horses ultimately replaced almost all other local populations as they expanded rapidly across Eurasia from about 2000 BC, synchronously with equestrian material culture, including Sintashta spoke-wheeled chariots.

This is a neat discovery for a number of reasons. Horses have of courses played crucial roles in the development of pretty much every society on the globe. But, as the scientists note in their abstract, this discovery also disproves the previously-believed associations between horseback riding and the spread of Indo-European languages. On the contrary: the spread of a specific horse breed in Asia in the second millennium BC was concurrent with the spread of both Indo-Iranian languages, and chariotry. The scientists believe that these two things may have in fact transformed the Eurasian Bronze Age, rather than vice versa. "The adoption of [these specific horses and chariots], whether for warfare, prestige or both, probably varied between decentralized chiefdoms in Europe and urbanized states in Western Asia," they wrote. "The results thus open up new research avenues into the historical developments of these different societal trajectories."

The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes [Pablo Librado, Naveed Khan, and 160 others credited authors / Nature]

The Horse You Rode In On May Have Been Made in Southern Russia [Sabrina Imbler / New York Times]

Image: Public Domain via Pixnio