Behind the origins of modern horses
By whom and where were modern horses first domesticated? When did they conquer the rest of the world? How did they supplant the myriad different horses that existed at that time? The domestication of the horse was one of those milestones that forever changed the course of humanity. Horses increased the workforce of human communities and forever transformed transportation and warfare. However, lhe genetic and geographical origins of modern domestic horses remain unknown. Currently, it is known, for example, of the existence of a lineage of domestic horses of more than 5,500 years old associated with a settlement of the Botai culture, in Central Asia, however, these horses are not related to modern domestic horses.
Now, a team of scientists from the Toulouse Center for Anthropobiology and Genomics, led by the paleogeneticist Ludovic Orlando, it has been proposed to answer this enigma, which has been solved by scientists for decades. Thus, some years ago, the Orlando team examined the Botai site, Central Asia, which had provided the oldest archaeological evidence of domestic horses. However, the DNA results showed that These 5,500-year-old domesticated horses could not be the ancestors of today’s domestic horses. The question would remain unanswered for a few more years.
In addition to those in the steppes of Central Asia, the study of all possible foci of horse domestication, such as the Anatolian peninsula, Siberia or the Iberian Peninsula, had not yielded any conclusive results. “We knew that the period of time between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago was critical, however, we never found genetic evidence linking those horses with the current ones”explains the researcher.
Steppes of the Caucasus: cradle of modern twine
To identify the homeland of the modern domestic horse, the team of 162 scientists specialized in archeology, palaeogenetics and linguistics therefore decided to extend their study to all of Eurasia. analyzing the genomes of 273 horses that lived between 50,000 and 200 years before Christ from places previously considered as possible foci of domestication.n of horses, including Iberia, Anatolia, and the steppes of western Eurasia and central Asia.
This strategy paid off, and through the analysis of DNA isolated from these ancient remains, The authors identified a domestication center in the lower Volga-Don region, now part of Russia, from where horses spread around the world 4,200 years ago. “Although Eurasia was once populated by genetically very diverse breeds of horses, a dramatic change occurred between 2000 and 2200 BC, notes the doctor. Pablo Librado, co-author of the study. “It was an opportunity: the horses that lived in Anatolia, Europe, Central Asia and Siberia used to be genetically very different,” he adds.
A single genetic profile of the Pontic steppes, in the North Caucasus, began to spread, replacing all wild horse populations from the Atlantic to Mongolia in a few centuries.
So, a single genetic profile, previously confined to the Pontic steppes, in the North Caucasus, began to spread beyond their native region, replacing all wild horse populations from the Atlantic to Mongolia in a few centuries. “The genetic data also point to an equine population explosion at that time, with no equivalent during the last 100,000 years,” adds Orlando.
“It was then that we took control of the reproduction of the animal and reproduced it in astronomical numbers.” But how can this overwhelming popularity be explained? Interestingly, the scientists found two notable differences between the genome of this horse and those of the populations it replaced: one is linked to a more docile behavior and the second indicates a stronger spine. The researchers suggest that these characteristics ensured the animals’ success at a time when horseback riding was becoming “global.”
The study also reveals that the horse spread across Asia at the same time as the spoked wheeled chariots and Indo-Iranian languages. “However, the migrations of Indo-European populations from the steppes to Europe during the third millennium BC could not be based on the horse,” the authors explain. “since its domestication and diffusion occurred later”. “All this demonstrates the importance of incorporating the history of animals when studying human migrations and encounters between cultures” they conclude
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