The origin of the domestic horse finally identified

It is a strange archeo-animal saga that has been solved by an international team of 162 archaeologists and paleogeneticists, led by the Frenchman Ludovic Orlando, from the CNRS. By studying the genomes of 273 horses, from the Iberian Peninsula to Mongolia, specialists have traced the origin of its domestication.

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Two remaining species of horses

There are only two species of horses left: the domestic horse, which comes in several breeds, and the Przewalski horse, a wild species in danger of extinction. And contrary to what one might think, the latter is not the ancestor of domesticated equines. A previous study, conducted in 2018, had shown that Przewalski’s horse was actually the result of a maroon: these horses descended from an extinct domestic species, the Botai horse, and returned to the wild.

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But the Botai horse is not the ancestor of modern horses either. In this equine investigation, several places of possible domestication emerged before being discredited: the Iberian Peninsula, Persia, the Siberian taiga and many others where horse bones have been found. Finally, the ancestor would have come from the Eurasian steppes, in the region where Volga and Don cross, in what is today Russia.

Easier horses to ride

Present since the end of the fourth millennium BC, these domesticated horses then reached Anatolia and Bohemia around – 2000. Their presence expanded to Western Europe and Siberia, to the ‘East, to replace all local populations of horses.

According to the study, published Wednesday, October 20 in the scientific journal Nature, this rapid adoption is explained by attributes specific to the species: a stronger spine, with less back problems, and a more docile character. Two aspects that should facilitate travel on horseback.

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Domesticated very late, nearly 2,000 years after the sheep and the ox, the horse has revolutionized trade and human settlement, with the transport of people and goods, then later agriculture. Archaeological excavations show, moreover, that this expansion of the domestic horse coincides with that of wire-spoked carriages. The authors of the study argue for the history of animals to be better taken into account in archeology for ” shed light on human migrations and encounters between cultures “.


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