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Press Release 09-038

Evidence of Earliest Known Domestic Horses Found in Kazakhstan

The use of horses for milk and food offers clues to the animals' social significance

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Illustration of a horse showing the thong bridle that horses may have ridden 5,500 years ago.

Tell-tale signs of 'bit damage' found by researchers in Kazakhstan are evidence that horses were harnessed and may have been ridden as early as 5,500 years ago. Researchers found traces of the use of thong bridles, which are simply leather thongs draped over the gap between the teeth of a horse's lower jaw and knotted under the chin, with the trailing ends acting as the reins. This is a depiction of the use of a rawhide thong bridle on a primitive domesticated horse. The thong loops over the bar, or diastema, between the anterior and cheek teeth, and is knotted below the chin.

Credit: Illustration by Sandra Olsen, Carnegie Museum of Natural History


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Photo of the grassy plains of Northern Kazakhstan where first horses may have been domesticated.

The Botai, situated in the vast, semi-arid, grassy plains, or steppe zones, east of the Ural Mountains in Northern Kazakhstan, may have been first to domesticate horses about 5,500 years ago. The Ural Mountains were a prime habitat for wild horses thousands of years ago and may have set the stage for horse domestication by indigenous cultures that commonly hunted them.

Credit: Dr Alan Outram, University of Exeter


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Photo of a woman milking a mare.

A novel method of analyzing residue from fat-soluble lipids on ancient Botai pottery uncovered traces of fats from horse milk, leading researchers to conclude that people consumed horse milk at the beginning of the Copper Age some 5,500 years ago. Mare's milk is still consumed in Kazakhstan where it's usually fermented into a slightly alcoholic drink called 'koumiss.'

Credit: Dr Alan Outram, University of Exeter


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Cover of March 6, 2009 issue of Science magazine

The researchers' findings are published in the March 6, 2009, issue of Science magazine.

Credit: 2009 AAAS


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