January 24, 2022 2:27 pm

Modern horses were domesticated in the steppes north of the Caucasus and spread throughout Asia and Europe

An international genetic study with the participation of Superior Council of Scientific Investigations (CSIC) has determined that the horses from which all current domestic horses are descended were domesticated in the steppes of the North Caucasus and from there they spread to other regions of Asia and Europe. The results are published in the magazine Nature.

This job is the biggest genetic study done so far. Researchers from centers such as the Milá and Fontanals Institution (IMF) and Institute of Archeology (IAM), from the CSIC, together with scientists from Museum of Human Evolution (MEH), the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Extremadura (UEx), among others.

This study puts an end to a long debate around the place and chronology in which the first evidences of domestication of the horses that originated the current populations are documented.

“This study ends a long debate about the place and the chronology in which the first evidences of domestication of the horses that originated the current populations are documented”, according to the researchers, “as well as the questions about the moment in which this domestication process began to spread to other regions of the planet, replacing other types of horses existing at that time ”.

To reach this conclusion, a team made up of 114 institutions and 162 researchers specialized in archeology, palaeogenetics and linguistics, led by Professor Ludovic Orlando, researcher of the CNRS and principal investigator of the Project ERC-Pegasus, in charge of funding the research together with the France Genomique – Bucéphale project.

The study has included the genome sequencing of 273 horse remains that populated various regions of Eurasia in a chronological arc that spans between 50,000 and 200 BC

The study has included the genome sequencing of 273 horse remains that populated various regions of Eurasia in a chronological arc that extends between 50,000 and 200 years BC.

All genetic information has been sequenced in the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse, and Genoscope, before being compared with the genomes of modern domestic horses.

Thanks to the extensive battery of statistical analyzes carried out, it has been found that between 2200 and 2000 BC there was a drastic change in which the existing genetic profile in the Pontic steppes it began to spread beyond its region of origin, replacing in a few centuries all wild horse populations from the Atlantic to Mongolia.

According to Orlando, “it has been seen that this replacement in the genetic composition of the Eurasian populations is associated with significant genomic differences between this new type of horse and the horses of the populations that disappeared. On the one hand, this new type of horse from the northern steppes of the Caucasus had a more docile behavior and, on the other hand, a more robust constitution in the vertebral skeleton ”.

The horse from the northern steppes of the Caucasus had a more docile behavior and, on the other hand, a more robust constitution than the other types of equines

Researchers have suggested that these characteristics were the trigger for the successful selection of these animals, at a time when horse travel began to become widespread in Eurasia.

According Pablo Librado (CNRS), first author of this research, this study “has shown that the distribution of this new type of horse in Asia coincides with the appearance of light chariots and with the spread of Indo-Iranian languages.”

On the contrary, the migration of Indo-European populations from the steppe area to the heart of Europe during the 3rd millennium BC, did not have this new type of horse as a vector of its expansion.

“This result demonstrates the importance of also incorporating the genetic history of animals when analyzing the dimension of human migrations and intercultural contacts”, concludes the researcher.

Deposits in the Iberian Peninsula

Among the individuals analyzed are equidae from various sites on the Iberian Peninsula, among which stand out Houses of Turuñuelo (Guareña, Badajoz) and Cova Fosca (Alto Maestrazgo, Castelló).

Cova Fosca was excavated by Francesc Gusi and Carmen Pottery. According to Olaria, professor of Prehistory at the UJI and co-author of this study, “Cova Fosca has a very rich Holocene archaeozoological record. We were able to identify horse remains at ancient Neolithic levels, a very rare taxon to find in the Iberian sites of this time. This uniqueness allowed us to publish years ago together with Jaime Lira Garrido and Juan Luis Arsuaga the first mitochondrial sequences of horses from this place. “

Among the individuals analyzed are equidae from various sites on the Iberian Peninsula, among which Casas del Turuñuelo and Cova Fosca stand out.

According to Arsuaga, scientific director of the MEH, professor of Paleontology UCM, director of the UCM-ISCIII Mixed Center and co-author of this study, “in Cova Fosca we found a unique and exclusive Iberian mitochondrial lineage that currently appears in very few horses, all Iberian or of Iberian origin. In this new study we wanted to reveal the genomic secrets of Cova Fosca ”.

One of the greatest sacrifices of the ancient Mediterranean

Casas del Turuñuelo is one of the most impressive discoveries of peninsular archeology in recent years.

Its excavations are developed under a project directed from the IAM-CSIC and are being co-led by Esther Rodriguez Gonzalez and Sebastian Celestino, also researchers from the IAM-CSIC.

“El Turuñuelo is an architectural complex from the middle of the 1st millennium BC. C. belonging to the Tartessian culture, where we have found the largest documented catastrophe to date in a site of Mediterranean protohistory. This massive sacrifice stands out for the large number of equidae that have been differentiated in the courtyard of this place. For this study we selected Equid 4 ”, says Rodríguez, co-author of the study.

For its part, Celestino comments that “around Turuñuelo a multidisciplinary team of humanities and biosciences specialists has been created who are generating a constant exchange of information and ideas, offering a great multidisciplinary approach to the study of this site”.

Orlando and his team discovered that a genomic lineage now extinct and very different from the rest of the ancient and modern Eurasian horse lineages described to date developed in the Iberian Peninsula.

Lira Garrido (UEx / UCM -ISCIII)

Among the research lines of the project Building Tartessushighlights the genetic study of these slaughtered equids, which is in charge of Lira Garrido (UEx / Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII) and who has also participated in the study.

“This latest work directed by Professor Orlando has also allowed us to delve into the evolutionary history of the Iberian horses. In a previous study, Orlando and his team discovered that a genomic lineage now extinct and very different from the rest of the ancient and modern Eurasian horse lineages described to date developed in the Iberian Peninsula ”, emphasizes this researcher.

Lira Garrido adds that “the evolutionary origin of this lineage and the causes that led to its disappearance, we still do not know. However, we have been able to identify in the Neolithic sample of Cova Fosca the oldest evidence of this extinct lineage and that the Equid 4 del Turuñuelo was, however, a descendant of this new type of horse that spread so rapidly throughout the known world ~ 4000 years ago ”, he concludes.

Reference-www.agenciasinc.es

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