Saudis Seek to Bolster Their Claim to Earliest Horse Domestication

A new piece on the BBC website adds more to speculation over Saudi Arabia’s Al Maqar site: could the fragments of horse figures discovered there depict harness? If this could be definitively proved, the Saudis’ claim to earliest horse domestication would be verified. However, as I pointed out in an earlier, more detailed blog post on the Al Maqar hypothesis:

what sort of harness would that be? Horse collars and breast yokes for draft are not believed to have been invented until 4th century BC China, and a loose strap on the neck would provide little control for a rider. Even if domestication had happened in the peninsula at that period, it became obsolete as the hypothetical Al Maqar domesticated horse died out: new DNA research shows that all modern domestic horses are descended from animals of the Eneolithic Eurasian Steppes.

It now occurs to me that there’s another potential answer. Many equids have what are called “primitive markings” like “eel stripes” running the lengths of their backs, or zebra-esque stripes on their lower legs. One of these markings is a stripe lying across both shoulders. In donkeys it’s been attributed to the fact that Jesus rode an ass – and hence the eel stripe and shoulder band make the shape of a cross. And here’s one, photographed by Wikicommons contributor Barbirossa:
And here’s the Al Maqar horse. What do you think?

PS Folks who are angry with me… You can read the previous post and this and see that this has bugger all to do with racism (and there’s no such thing as an “Indo-European race”). I’m pointing out something that’s well known in the debate about horse domestication: a mere image or carving of a horse doesn’t prove anything. If a single carving or image of a horse WERE definitive proof of domestication, then many other places in the world beat Saudi Arabia to it.

Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

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  1. With all due respect your argument is very weak. The markings on donkeys end short of the middle of the shoulder blade and taper off becoming thinner from top to bottom meanwhile the statue shows an object protruding over the surface and it gets wider as it goes down until reaches beyond the shoulder blades. Furthermore donkeys were domesticated 5000 years ago which gives you another problem to ponder. It is a horse, clearly it is a horse so why the all the anger?

    1. And I forgot to mention that there is more than one statue and the object isn’t present on it.

      1. Hi there! I am neither angry nor saying that the statue is a donkey. I’m saying that both horses and donkeys have these markings, and that it’s not a “harness”, which is what was being claimed.

      2. Well the markings are different from the donkey coloration and after I looked at it we see too types of markings, a groove a little bit above the mouth and then you have the protrusion. What I am trying to say is if they are going to use a method to indicate a colour then it would be one of the two but not both and saying it is a donkey is a bit reaching if you don’t mind me saying so. Furthermore the other statues don’t have clearly distinct horse like characteristics. I agree that they might be reading too much into it but with all due respect so are you. I have read some of the articles on this site and I see a lot of leaps of faith for example the DNA part when claiming that the number of horses traced to that haplogroup is in the Eurasian steppe therefore it is the source and that is simply wrong and such assumption had led to some archeological mistakes before like the European Y haplotype R which modern Europeans descend from was believed to be from Europe because it was concentrated there but more specific studies have put the origins to two different incursions into the European continent from Asia. Then there is the Gallic origin that was thought to be in Western Europe and was found out to be somewhere east of Austria and spread from there then there was the rock paintings that had tha that had tha music writing next to them but I saw other writings also from a thousand years ago or so i.e. Modern Arabic so does that make the drawings more recent? I think the drawings need to be dated separate from the writings and with all due respect I saw a couple of things like that in your posts, it might be too common to hit back at a wild guess with on of your own but I think if someone sees an article that builds too much of a story then one needs to bring it back to basics rather then overshoots on his side of the argument and that is why you seemed angry to me or even as someone looking for an aryan influance on the subject in a way we read about in colonial literature. I apologize if I am being too harsh and for writing such a long comment and I understand your passion towards the subject matter.

      3. No, I’m not looking for “Aryan influence”. I just follow the ongoing, ever-evolving findings about horse domestication/taming and DNA as published in peer-reviewed journals.
        A visual representation of a horse with a stripe on its shoulder is not evidence of domestication. That was the claim made at the time of this post.

      4. Well the language used in the peer reviewed studies and the one used in the claims based on those studies are different. Where the studies say that a certain info points to this or that then people jump and say it indicates this or that. You will find that true proficinal studies are much more carefull in what they claim than what people say and there lies the problem of taking scientific jargon to common speech and misreading it. I only say that it is better not to read to much into it and not to present funny counter argument to over reaching archeological claims. For example if there are two horses and one had a harness and the other didn’t is that truly a sign there wasn’t domestication in that place (which wasn’t Saudi Arabia by the way) ? and you completely ignored the fact that if the protrusion is for colour as you say then the groove is an instrument or the other way around so either way you trapped yourself in that logic. Archeological studies are for the most part a blind shot in the dark and constructing a narrative based on those fragments is very risky so please keep that into consideration.

      5. But that doesn’t take away from it either. And it surly indicated they are horses. By the way it wasn’t in Saudia Arabia.

  2. “if the protrusion is for colour as you say then the groove is an instrument or the other way around so either way you trapped yourself in that logic.”

    I have no idea what you mean by this – it’s certainly not what I’m saying. I’m (for the umpteenth time) saying that a stripe, whether carved or painted, on a horse’s shoulder is not proof of a “harness”, let alone domestication.

    1. No problem then I will explain it for a third time, you proposed that the widening protruding strip running from the top to under the shoulder blades of the statue is the colouring on a donkey’s back. Then we see another statue with a groove made across the face of another horse statue so it can’t be to indicate colour because the maker of the statues would use the technique either to indicate colour or to indicate an object so if the you say the first horse was actually a donkey and that part is to indicate colouration then automatically the other statue becomes a horse with a mouth peice on and vice versa by your logic alone.

      1. Nope. You’re wrong again and you are not reading my replies. In the original I wrote ‘Many equids have what are called “primitive markings” like “eel stripes” running the lengths of their backs, or zebra-esque stripes on their lower legs.’ Equids include horses. Many breeds labelled ‘primitive’ also have these stripes. I used the image of the donkey as it clearly showed the stripes, not because I said the Al Maqar horse was a donkey. A light muzzle is also one of these characteristics labelled “primitive”. Just look at the Przewalskis in the background to this blog and the stone-age depictions of them in cave paintings and carvings.

      2. Put you see you are still reaching out to an even more fantastic claim than the first one and even to the initial claim by the people who made the archeological claim. Wanting to discredit them and their method you went into a worse situation and I say so respectfully. The specialists in the field who were behind the discoveries in the steppe said that they are exited and are looking forward to see some animal remains they can examine which is the proper measured response. Also it doesn’t change what I said before that the statues had been worked on which two techniques in two ways A. a groove B. a protrusion, to indicate certain features so either one is a colour and the other is an instrument or the other way around but you can’t dismiss both as colour or stripe.

      3. We have absolutely no idea what different techniques “meant” to the people who made these – that is a fantastic claim. No equine remains proving domestication have yet shown up at the site. I’m fine with what I’ve said.

      4. Yes no remains were found yet but I was trying to show you how the pros do it and you are the one that made the claim that the marks on the statues were pointing to colour and their lies the problem

      5. I’m saying there is nothing to link them to harnesses or domestication. And it would be naive to miss the point of this post – the all-too-common appropriation of archaeology by politicians and ideologues with ulterior motives.

    1. Oh, interesting! I hadn’t realised till recently that these particular artefacts weren’t excavated by archaeologists, so their time line may be a bit blurrier than states by the BBC.

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