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Horse riding was likely a common activity 4,500 to 5,000 years ago, according to a provocative new study that looked at human skeletal remains for small signs of physical stress associated with horse riding.
Researchers believe that people first began keeping horses around 5,500 years ago, initially for their meat and milk. But how and when horses became a transformative means of transportation is not so clear.
“Cattle and sheep and goats were domesticated thousands of years before horses. And horses differ from cattle and sheep and goats in that they are essentially a transportation technology,” says David Anthony, professor of anthropology at Hartwick College. He is an Emeritus Professor.
Horses lived alongside humans before the invention of the wheel, and horse-drawn chariots first appeared around 4,000 years ago. Nearly a thousand years later, there has been an explosion of horses and horse-related subjects depicted in art. And scientists have tried to piece together other forms of evidence about when horse riding first appeared.
Some researchers, such as Anthony and his fellow paleontologist Dorcas Brown, have examined the teeth of ancient horses to examine the patterns of wear caused by bits. The trouble is, there just isn’t that much material out there to study, Anthony says.
“My wife and I have looked through museum collections for horse remains and are very disappointed on Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary,” he says, noting that the Eurasian steppe was where wild horses lived and were domesticated. were available to be had.
The other limitation with finding horse teeth with bit wear, says Alan Outram with the University of Exeter, is that “all you’ve shown is harness. You haven’t specifically demonstrated riding.”
So now a team led by researchers from the University of Helsinki has taken a different approach and turned to the human side of the horse-riding relationship.
Specifically, they went in search of human skeletal remains that may have come from the type of physical stress associated with horse riding, especially as riding barefoot requires the feet to maintain a strong grip.
Scientists examined the skeletal remains of 24 individuals from archaeological sites in southeastern Europe, examining them for six different types of damage that horse riding potentially could have caused to the spine, pelvis and leg bones. .
in the magazine science advanceThey report that at least four of the nine individuals had physical signs that suggested they could ride horses.
“It’s really important to get this evidence from the human side, which hasn’t been systematically analyzed before,” says Anthony, one of the authors of this study. “It shows that ride-on domestication can emerge at a very early stage in the process.”
Everything this research team did looks legitimate and it makes sense theoretically, agrees Outram, who was not part of this research group. He cautions that it is possible that there exists some other kind of unknown physical activity that could be creating these features.
“It’s not absolutely 100% proof, but the quality of the paper is very good,” says Outram, who adds that it is the nature of archaeological evidence to have some ambiguity.
“It is fair to say that at the moment this is the earliest evidence that may indicate horse riding,” says Outram.
He notes that until the development of the steam train, horses provided the fastest means of land transportation, dramatically changing people’s concept of distance and their ability to travel.
However, pre-modern horses were likely nervous and easily frightened, so their early use may have been modest.
“They probably weren’t suited to being ridden in anything like a violent confrontation,” says Anthony, suggesting that people on horses could herd large groups of sheep or goats, and it wasn’t until much later that Horses became a powerful weapon in war and conquest.
But who had the best idea to try to ride a large, potentially dangerous animal like a horse? Anthony thinks it’s something that would only be for someone looking for a thrill, who wouldn’t mind being thrown over and over again.
“If you were 12, you know, and your sense of fear wasn’t as developed,” says Anthony, who added that he thinks the first people to ride horses “were probably teenagers who wanted to try.” were challenging each other.” re.”