Evidence of earliest domesticated horses surfaces in Kazakhstan

March 7th, 2009 - 5:04 pm ICT by IANS  

London, March 7 (IANS) Evidence of the earliest domesticated horses, uncovered in Kazakhstan, suggests that they were also ridden and milked.
Researchers from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, and the universities of Exeter and Bristol, Britain, uncovered the evidence in Kazakhstan, the world’s largest landlocked country in Central Asia.

They said domestication may have begun in the area 5,500 years ago, about 1,000 years earlier than originally thought. Their findings also put horse domestication in Kazakhstan about 2,000 years earlier than that known to have existed in Europe.

“Having a domesticated animal that could be eaten, milked, ridden, used as a pack animal and potentially for haulage would have had a tremendous impact on any society that initiated or adopted horse herds,” said Sandra Olsen, curator of anthropology at Carnegie Museum.

Olsen directed several archaeological teams that excavated sites in Kazakhstan from 1994 to 2002. Her work in the Botai Culture sites of Krasnyi Yar in 2000 and Vasilkovka in 2002 was supported by the National Science Foundation. Her earlier work was supported by National Geographic.

Gathered data supports the hypothesis that the horse-rich area in the vast, semi-arid, grassy plains, or steppe zones, east of the Ural Mountains in Northern Kazakhstan, contributed largely to the development of two neighbouring cultures, the Botai in north-central Kazakhstan and the Tersek in the west.

Researchers used a novel method of analysing residue from fat-soluble lipids found on ancient Botai pottery to find traces of fats from horse milk, leading to the conclusion that people consumed horse milk at the beginning of the Copper Age some 5,500 years ago.

Mare’s milk is still a staple of consumption in Kazakhstan where it’s usually fermented into a slightly alcoholic drink called ‘koumiss,’ said a Carnegie statement. These findings were published in the latest issue of Science.

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