Navigation Links
New evidence of early horse domestication

Soil from a Copper Age site in northern Kazakhstan has yielded new evidence for domesticated horses up to 5,600 years ago. The discovery, consisting of phosphorus-enriched soils inside what appear to be the remains of horse corrals beside pit houses, matches what would be expected from Earth once enriched by horse manure. The Krasnyi Yar site was inhabited by people of the Botai culture of the Eurasian Steppe, who relied heavily on horses for food, tools, and transport.

"There's very little direct evidence of horse domestication," says Sandra Olsen, an archaeologist and horse domestication researcher at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA. That's because 5,600 years ago there were no saddles or metal bits to leave behind. Equipment like bridles, leads, and hobbles would have been made from thongs of horse hide, and would have rotted away long ago. Likewise horses themselves have not changed much physically as a result of domestication, unlike dogs or cattle. So ancient horse bones don't easily reveal the secrets of domestication.

With research funding from the National Science Foundation, Olsen's team took a different tack. They looked for circumstantial evidence that people were keeping horses. One approach was to survey the Krasnyi Yar site with instruments to map out subtle electrical and magnetic irregularities in the soils. With this they were able to identify the locations of 54 pit houses and dozens of post moulds where vertical posts once stood. Some of the post moulds were arranged circularly, as would be most practical for a corral.

Next, geologist Michael Rosenmeier from the University of Pittsburgh collected soil samples from inside the fenced area and outside the settlement. The samples were analyzed for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium concentrations by Rosemary Capo, University of Pittsburgh geochemist, and her students. Modern horse manure is rich in phosphorous, potassium, and especially nitro gen, compared to undisturbed soils. But because nitrogen is mobile in soils, it can be lost to groundwater or transferred to the atmosphere by organic and inorganic processes. Phosphorus, on the other hand, can be locked into place by calcium and iron and is more likely to be preserved in the soils for millennia.

As it turned out, the soil from inside the alleged corral had up to ten times the phosphorus concentration as the soils from outside the settlement. Lots of phosphorus can also indicate a hearth, said Capo, but that phosphorus is usually accompanied by a lot of potassium, which is not the case in the corral at Krasnyi Yar.

The corral soils also had low nitrogen concentrations, says Capo, reducing the likelihood that the phosphorus came from more recent manure. "That's good, actually," she said of the recently completed nitrogen analyses. "It suggests we've got old stuff."

Even more compelling will be if we find long-lived molecules of fat, or lipids, directly attributed to horse manure in the soils, says Olsen.

The latest results from Krasnyi Yar site will be on display Monday morning, 23 October, at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Philadelphia.

Early as the Botai were, they were probably not the first to domesticate horses, says Olsen. "The very first horse domestication was probably a bit earlier in Ukraine or western Russia," she said. "Then some horse-herders migrated east to Kazakhstan."

Horses allowed the Botai to build large perennial villages with, in one case, hundreds of homes. They did so without the benefit of agriculture, Olsen explained, as theirs was a horse economy.

The Botai were able to stay put year-round because horses are very well adapted to cold winters, she said. "Horses can survive ice storms and don't need heated barns or winter fodder," Olsen said. They are, in fact, some of the last remaining large, Ice Age, Pleistocene mammals living in o ne of the last places on Earth where Pleistocene vegetation survives.

Because they were domesticated, the horses supplied meat year-round and vitamin-rich mare's milk from spring through fall. "No one in their right mind would try to milk a wild mare," said Olsen.

There is also evidence that the Botai were carrying a lot of heavy material, like rocks and large skulls, over long distances. That is a lot more practical and explicable if they used pack horses.

Later people of the same region adopted shepherding and cattle raising, said Olsen. That created a more nomadic culture, since sheep and cattle are not well suited for sub-zero climates and therefore needed to be taken south in winter. The tradeoff, she says, was that cows and sheep give far fattier milk year round, which can be made into yogurt and cheese. Sheep also provide wool.

Kazakh people today still eat horsemeat. They were forced to abandon their nomadic lifestyle during the Soviet era and have returned to small village pastoralism, Olsen says.


Source:Geological Society of America

Related biology news :

1. Genome of deadly amoeba shows surprising complexity, evidence of lateral gene transfer
2. Light therapy may combat fungal infections, new evidence suggests
3. Researchers find first evidence of venom system in extinct mammal
4. Scientists find evidence of catastrophic sand avalanches, sea level changes in Gulf of Mexico
5. Oldest dated evidence of cattle in southern Africa found
6. SLU researchers uncover direct evidence on how HIV invades healthy cells
7. Same-sex mating by fungi spawned infection outbreak, evidence suggests
8. Team led by Carnegie Mellon University scientist finds first evidence of a living memory trace
9. Why we give: New study finds evidence of generosity among our early human ancestors
10. New evidence supports century-old theory of cancer spread
11. New evidence questions the simple link between prion proteins and madcow disease
Post Your Comments:

(Date:10/29/2015)... 2015  Connected health pioneer, Joseph C. Kvedar ... technology-enabled health and wellness, and the business opportunities that ... The Internet of Healthy Things . Long before ... existed, Dr. Kvedar, vice president, Connected Health, Partners HealthCare, ... moving care from the hospital or doctor,s office into ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... 2015 Today, LifeBEAM , a ... 2XU, a global leader in technical performance sports ... with advanced bio-sensing technology. The hat will allow ... key biometrics to improve overall training performance. As ... will bring together the most advanced technology, extensive ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... October 27, 2015 Munich, ... Gaze Mapping technology (ASGM) automatically maps data from mobile ... Glasses , so that they can be quantitatively ... Munich, Germany , October 28-29, 2015. ... data from mobile eye tracking videos created with ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... Studies reveal the differences in species of ... way for more effective treatment for one of the most ... --> --> Gum disease is ... yet relatively little was understood about the bacteria associated with ... by researchers from the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition together ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna Zentaris Inc. (NASDAQ:  AEZS; TSX: ... prospects remain fundamentally strong and highlights the following ... received DSMB recommendation to continue the ZoptEC Phase ... the final interim efficacy and safety data ... men with heavily pretreated castration- and Taxane-resistant prostate ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... November 25, 2015 The ... is a professional and in-depth study on the ...      (Logo: ) , ... industry including definitions, classifications, applications and industry chain ... the international markets including development trends, competitive landscape ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... The United States Golf Association (USGA) today ... Green Section Award. Presented annually since 1961, the USGA Green Section Award recognizes an ... turfgrass. , Clarke, of Iselin, N.J., is an extension specialist of turfgrass ...
Breaking Biology Technology: