High altitude horse use and early horse transport in eastern Eurasia: New evidence from melting ice

William Timothy Treal Taylor, Isaac A. Hart, Tumurbaatar Tuvshinjargal, Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan, Nicholas L. Jarman, Peter Bittner, Paula López Calle, Logan A. Blakeslee, Muhammad Zahir, Lorelei Chauvey, Gaëtan Tressières, Laure Tonasso-Calvière, Stéphanie Schiavinato, Corinne Cruaud, Jean Marc Aury, Pedro H. Oliveira, Patrick Wincker, Ludovic Orlando

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

While few places on earth have been as deeply impacted by the human-horse relationship as the steppes of Mongolia and eastern Eurasia, gaps in the archaeological record have made it strikingly difficult to trace when and how the first domestic horses were integrated into ancient societies in this key region of the world. Recently, organic materials preserved in melting mountain ice have emerged as a key source of archaeological insight into the region’s deep past. Newly-identified artefacts recovered from melting snow and ice in the Altai Mountain range of western Mongolia (including metal artefacts, skeletal remains, and hoof fragments) provide archaeological evidence for the use of horses at high altitudes from the Bronze Age through the 20th century. Direct radiocarbon dating and genomic sequencing demonstrate the presence of Przewalski’s horse in the region during the early second millennium BCE, suggesting that this taxon may have once foraged at high altitudes frequented by human hunters. Importantly, directly-dated remains of horse hoof trimmings provide some of the oldest direct evidence of horse transport in the Eastern Steppe as early as the 14th century BCE, and suggest a role for high-mountain hunting in the innovation of reliable mounted riding.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHolocene
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Mongolia
  • glacial archaeology
  • horse domestication
  • horseback riding

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