Saudi Arabia’s claim to have the oldest evidence for horse domestication took a substantial knock today as Cambridge scientists published the results of an examination of modern domestic horse genes. Their conclusion? Domestication began on the Eurasian Steppes.
Their research shows that the extinct wild ancestor of domestic horses, Equus ferus, expanded out of East Asia approximately 160,000 years ago. They were also able to demonstrate that Equus ferus was domesticated in the western Eurasian Steppe, and that herds were repeatedly restocked with wild horses as they spread across Eurasia.
Dr Vera Warmuth, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, said: “Our research clearly shows that the original founder population of domestic horses was established in the western Eurasian Steppe, an area where the earliest archaeological evidence for domesticated horses has been found. The spread of horse domestication differed from that of many other domestic animal species, in that spreading herds were augmented with local wild horses on an unprecedented scale. If these restocking events involved mainly wild mares, we can explain the large number of female lineages in the domestic horse gene pool without having to invoke multiple domestication origins.”
More details in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. I’ve written a more detailed blog post on earlier research findings here, and a wee bit about Saudi Arabia’s Al Maqar claim here. Sorry guys, looks like it was the Kazakhs all along.