The first domesticated horse has long been a mystery in the world of archeology and history. Horses are a fundamental part of history, as their domestication revolutionized the movement of people and warfare. With horses, cultures could flourish as they shuttled between societies and opened up long-distance trade routes.
This week, however, a team of paleogeneticists and archaeologists has discovered the origins of horse domestication after collecting horse remains from various regions. Horses were first domesticated in what is now Russia as early as 2200 BC, according to research led by the Toulouse Center for Human Biology and Genomics. The species spread across Europe and Asia, becoming the main breed of domesticated horse. Eventually, these horses evolved into the modern breeds we see and use today.
The discovery of this horse breed could provide archaeologists with important insights into ancient cultural encounters and the migration routes of our ancestors.
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Research: Finding Modern Horses
After this discovery, the researchers expanded their search and excavation sites for the ancient horse remains. The new study spans Eurasia — modern Western Europe, Mongolia and Serbia. This is where archaeologists pan for gold. A horse that matches the genetic makeup of modern horse breeds has been found in Western Europe. These horses are considered to have a more docile temperament and a stronger backbone than the native Asian breeds.
Determining the exact time and geographic beginnings of horse domestication has not been easy for researchers. Previous research has shown that the domestication of horses began in modern Central Asia around 3500 BC. However, after comparing the genetic makeup of Asian remains and modern horses. Paleogeneticists realized that the remains did not match and that another domesticated horse breed must have existed elsewhere in history. Genes from Asian remains are all but extinct in today’s domesticated horse breeds.
Western European horse breeds eventually spread to Asia, Europe and the Middle East via human migration and trade routes. By 1500 BC, European horse breeds had replaced other horse breeds as the main domesticated horse breeds. This is most likely due to their docile temperament and strong spine. This was the Bronze Age, when humans began training horses for work and travel in wheeled chariots—both of which favored mild-tempered, strong horses. Mustangs are not suited for these activities, nor do they perform as well as Western European horses.
Influence: The Role of the Horse in Historical Research
By knowing when and where horses were first domesticated, archaeologists can piece together the movement of early human societies. By tracking the remains of horses and analyzing their genetic similarities and differences, researchers can retrace the first steps of human exploration. In addition, studies of horse domestication can provide important insights into trading habits and warfare.
With this new information and its contribution to understanding ancient history, this study could inspire further studies of animal development through history. The domestication of horses and their spread across the continent is just one of many animal studies that can help historians piece together cross-cultural encounters thousands of years ago.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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