5,000-Year-Old Remains Might Be Oldest-Known Horseback Riders

Tomb of a horse rider in Malomerovo, Bulgaria.

Researchers interrogating the skeletal remains of Kurgan – 5,000-year-old burial mounds – have found evidence that some Neolithic people rode horses.

The findings fill in a gap in key timestamps of humankind’s relationship with horses: the first evidence of horse domestication (about 5,500 years ago) and the first horse-drawn carriages (4,000 years ago). search published Today in Science Advances.

A team of archaeologists and bioanthropologists has provided the first scientific analysis of the remains of five Yamnaya people, found at sites in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. The Yamnaya were a group of steppe herders who lived in the regions north of the Black and Caspian seas during the Neolithic period. The researchers also studied more than 200 previously studied skeletons from 39 sites across southeastern Europe.

They found that the five Lemnaya skeletons—along with 19 others from the larger sample—showed signs of riding, including the attachment sites of specific muscles in the legs, changes in the shape of the hip sockets, prolapse of the vertebrae in up-and-down movements, and some trauma indicative of Falls, kicks or bites from horses.

“They show no abnormalities, only slight adaptations to stress and minor degenerative joint pain,” Martin Trautmann, a bioanthropologist at the University of Helsinki and lead author of the study, said in an email to Gizmodo. “All in all, the people of Yamnaya display an exceptionally good general state of health.”

Trautmann added that these physiological signs of riding—musculoskeletal stress and joint degeneration—wouldn’t have caused individuals to look particularly different in life (similarly, you can’t really tell a cowboy from a person not based solely on how they walk.)

Previous research on horse remains in southeastern Europe indicates what kind of animal these ancient humans were riding. “They were, of course, closer to the now-extinct wild horse type, which looked similar to Przewalski’s horses—so medium in size, stocky, with broad chests and thick necks,” Trautmann said. This puts them in Same wheelhouse as medieval pony-sized war horses from Europe.

Because tools associated with horse riding are made of perishable materials such as logs or fiber ropes, the researchers write, looking at human remains for signs of riding can be more productive than looking at equine remains or material culture associated with horses.

One individual showed the oldest evidence of horseback riding: a 6,300-year-old skeleton from Hungary. This individual “surprisingly showed four of the six riding diseases, perhaps indicating a thousand-year-old Yamnaya ride,” said David Anthony, an anthropologist at Hartwick College and Harvard University, at the University of Helsinki. launch.

“An isolated case cannot support a firm conclusion, but in Neolithic graves of this era in the steppe, horse remains were sometimes placed in human graves with those of cattle and sheep, and stone sceptres were carved in the shape of horse heads,” Anthony added.

A comprehensive set of studies published last year Outline 10,000 years of human history through genetic shuffling, including how The Yamnaya culture spread in the southern arcThe region connecting southeastern Europe with western Asia. Lemnaya DNA is also present in the ancient people of the Junggar Basin, in northwest China. Adding horses to the story of Yamnaya culture and its distribution may help explain human migration in the Neolithic period.

DNA-based approaches to the study of equine domestication Help us understand How do modern wild horses derive from ancient ones?. but thisIt is also useful to look at the horses at The human archaeological record – and it can reveal amazing details, like what Some horses were buried alive with Iron Age humans.

MORE: The oldest known anthropogenic hybrid animal was the “Conga”


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