The first evidence of horseback riding dates back 5,000 years

Archaeologists have discovered the first direct evidence of horseback riding – a history-changing innovation – in 5,000-year-old human skeletons in Central Europe.

“When you get on a horse and it rides fast, it’s exciting — I’m sure ancient humans felt the same way,” said David Anthony, study co-author and archaeologist at Hartwick College. Before the railways, riding a horse was the fastest a man could travel.

Researchers analyzed more than 200 Bronze Age skeletal remains in museum collections in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic to look for signs of what co-author and University of Helsinki anthropologist Martin Trautmann calls “horse rider syndrome.” Tell-tale signs that the person was likely riding an animal, including characteristic wear marks on the hip sockets, femur, and pelvis.

“You can read bones like biographies,” said Trautmann, who has previously studied similar wear patterns in skeletons from later periods when horse riding was firmly established in the historical record.

The researchers focused on human skeletons — which are more easily preserved than horse bones in burial sites and museums — and identified five possible horsemen who lived about 4,500 to 5,000 years ago and belonged to a Bronze Age people called the Yamnaya.

“There is previous evidence of horses being used and milked, but this is the closest direct evidence yet of horse riding,” said University of Exeter archaeologist Alan Outram, who was not involved in the research but praised the approach.

The study was published Friday in the journal Science advances.

Researchers say the domestication of wild horses on the plains of Eurasia was a process, not a single event.

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former archaeologists found evidence From people consuming horse milk in the remains of teeth and handles of horses controlled by harnesses and bits dating back more than 5,000 years, this does not necessarily indicate that horses were ridden.

The Yamnaya culture, known for its distinctive burial mounds, originated in what is now part of Ukraine and western Russia, a region called the Pontic-Caspian Steppe. The horses they kept were different from modern horses—likely more spooky and less tolerant of humans—although they may have been direct genetic ancestors of horses. Modern horsesWhich appeared after several centuries, say the researchers.

The Yamnaya Mountains are most significant, said University of Helsinki archaeologist and co-author Volker Heide because of their massive expansion across Eurasia in just a few generations — moving west into Hungary and east into Mongolia.

“The spread of the Indo-European languages ​​is linked to their movement, and they reshaped the genetic makeup of Europe,” he said.

The researchers suggest that their relationship with horses may have partially enabled this amazing movement. “Horses expand the concept of distance — you start to think of places that were previously out of reach as accessible,” said co-author Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College.

This did not mean that the Yamnaya people were warriors on horseback, he said, because the horses they rode were likely very capricious in stressful situations on the battlefield. But horses may have allowed the Yamnaya to send communications more effectively, build alliances, and manage the herds of livestock that were central to their economy.

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Since only a small percentage of the skeletons studied clearly showed all six signs of horse riding, “it appears that a minority of people at the time were horse riders – this does not indicate that the entire society was built on horse riding,” he said. Molecular archaeologist Ludovic Orlando, who works at the Center for Anthropology and Genomics in Toulouse in France and was not involved in the research.

However, he applauded the work for helping to better define the possible genesis of horseback riding.

“It has to do with the origins of something that has influenced human history like few other things,” said Orlando.


Follow Christina Larson on Twitter at @larsonchristina.


The Associated Press Health and Science section receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Education Media group. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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