Horse Lovers Central discussion

Horses > Prehistoric horses

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
The Siberian permafrost has recently released the body of a foal... thought to be two months old. The foal is expected to be of a different subspecies to today's wild horses or primitive horses.

Here's a book which features Ice Age horses, for adults only.

The Valley of Horses
The Valley of Horses (Earth's Children, #2) by Jean M. Auel

And one on Stone Age horses for younger readers.

Moon in the River
Moon in the River by Vian Smith

message 2: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod

A wonderful photo of a herd of Przewalski's Horses on the Chinese steppe. With careful management they are thriving.

message 3: by Roland (new)

Roland Clarke (goodreadscomroland_clarke) | 19 comments A few years ago, I saw the herd of Przewalski's Horses being managed in the Cevennes, France - beautiful animals.

message 4: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Lucky you!

message 5: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Spotted horses painted on the walls of prehistoric caves were based on life. Well, of course they were!

"Dr. Hofreiter, 38, began his career working with a pioneer of ancient DNA research, Svante Paabo. Though he intended to study taxonomy, he was so intrigued by the idea of extracting DNA from ancient material that he switched his focus. “You have this 30,000-year-old piece of feces in your hand,” he said, adding: “Well, you should wear gloves. And you can actually get to the genetic code from the animal. And I thought, this is so fascinating.”

He and his colleagues did not set out to study cave art. They were simply continuing their work on coat color in prehistoric horses. Only after they found the spotted horse gene in their ancient samples did they realize they could say something about archaeology.

“What we found is that there were really only these three color patterns — spotted or dappled; blackish ones; and brown ones,” he said. “These are the three phenotypes we find in the wild populations. And then we realized these phenotypes are exactly the ones you see in cave paintings.”

Terry O’Connor, an archaeologist at the University of York who collaborated on the study, said spotted horses in particular had been used to argue that cave art was more symbolic than realistic, and that as a result the finding could cause a stir. But now it is clear that some horses had a gene for that coat color. “People drew spotty horses,” he said, “because they saw spotty horses.”"

message 6: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
"Scientists investigated the differences in genes for coat color of 31 ancient horse fossils from Siberia, Eastern and Western Europe and the Iberian Peninsula. The researchers found that a genetic mutation associated with the presence of white leopard-like spotting patterns on modern horses was present in six of the European horse fossils. Additionally, seven of the fossils had the genetic variation for black coat color, whereas 18 had bay coats.

As such, all the horse colors seen in these drawings have now been found to exist in prehistoric horse populations. The findings suggest that cave paintings of horses may be more realistic and less symbolic or fantastic than supposed. Still, although these horses might not have been imaginary, "we cannot exclude that these horses had a religious value," researcher Arne Ludwig, an evolutionary geneticist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, told LiveScience.

Leopard-spotted patterns in modern horses are sometimes linked with congenital problems such as stationary night blindness, perhaps explaining why any wild horses with them eventually died out long ago. As to why so many other horse fossils were found with them in the first place, perhaps this patterning provided camouflage in the snowy environments of the Stone Age, was attractive to mates or just stuck around due to random chance."

message 7: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
The Tarpan or Euasian wild horse, from which the Polish Konik was drawn.
Today, people are breeding backwards towards the Tarpan to create re-wilding projects.

"The Tarpan (Equus ferus ferus) is also known as the Eurasian wild horse. The Tarpan was a prehistoric wild horse type that ranged from Southern France and Northern Spain east to central Russia. Tarpans went extinct in wild nature between 1875 and 1890, and the last known wild mare was accidentally killed in Russia during an attempt to capture it. The last captive Tarpan died in 1909 in a Ukrainian zoo. Beginning in the 1930s, several attempts have since been initiated to re-create or bring back a look-a-like Tarpan through selective breeding with domestic races which allegedly retained much Tarpan DNA in their genome.

This look-a-like Tarpan is also known as the Konik (Polish for ‘little horse’) Polski. This breed has originated from Polish tarpan re-creation projects.

Konik Polski is mentioned in the study “Rewilding horses in Europe”, that was recently released by Rewilding Europe, as one the horse types which are most suitable for rewilding. In some countries – like the Netherlands – this Polish Konik has been released to nature reserves very successfully, with the beginning some thirty years ago. From there these horses have then been brought to Latvia, Bulgaria and other European countries."

message 8: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
The Skyrian Horse of Greece.

“Through our work filming horses, we learned there are over 600 breeds of horses around the world that are endangered and in danger of going extinct,” explain Jen and Sophie. “Most people have never heard of any of them and our vision is to create a cinematic library to educate the public and shine a light on these breeds and vanishing horse cultures in an effort to conserve and preserve them for future generations. Our motto is “The History of Man is the History of the Horse”.

After beginning the series with the critically-endangered Skyrian Horse of Greece, the unsung equine partner of Olympic Gods and Alexander the Great, it brought the spectre of extinction front and center for Jen and Sophie.

message 9: by Clare (last edited Sep 27, 2020 09:08AM) (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
From Rewilding Europe;

"Rewilding Europe is a programme aiming to rewild one million hectares of land spread across ten different locations in Europe by 2020. Main species for rewilding are big herbivores - wisent, tarpan-like semi-wild horses and auroch-like primitive cattle.
Previously named the Wild Europe Field Programme, it was initiated in 2011 by four organisations: WWF-Netherlands, ARK Nature, Wild Wonders of Europe and Conservation Capital following the "Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas" (Wild Europe) conference in Prague in 2009.
€3 million in start-up funding for the programme was raised in a Dutch lottery.

Here is the main portal of Rewilding Europe where you can read all news concerning the programme: "

The wisent is a variety of the European bison or American buffalo, but is associated with Poland. The aurochs is the prehistoric large, long-horned cattle of Europe from which modern cattle breeds were drawn. These beasts had to survive at the end of the Ice Age and fight off wolves. They lived alongside the Tarpan so the rewilding movement wants to build communities and let them re-adapt the steppe and forest fringe for greater biodiversity.

Large animals dig wallowing holes and turn over or trample the earth, make clearings amid young trees, and provide dung piles, all of which opens up niches for other animals and plants to exploit. Large animals are among the creatures called ecosystem engineers, because they change and shape the physical habitat. Another engineer is the beaver.

message 10: by Clare (last edited Sep 27, 2020 09:23AM) (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Wikipedia on Prezwalski's Horse, the Mongolian or Asiatic wild horse. (slightly edited)

"Przewalski's horse Equus przewalskii or Equus ferus przewalskii, also called the takhi, Mongolian wild horse or Dzungarian horse, is a rare and endangered horse native to the steppes of central Asia. At one time extinct in the wild, it has been reintroduced to its native habitat since the 1990s in Mongolia at the Khustain Nuruu National Park, Takhin Tal Nature Reserve, and Khomiin Tal. It is named after the Russian geographer and explorer Nikołaj Przewalski.

Most wild horses today, such as the American mustang or the Australian brumby, are actually feral horses descended from domesticated animals that escaped and adapted to life in the wild. Przewalski's horse has long been considered the only 'true' wild horse extant in the world today, never having been domesticated. However, a 2018 DNA study suggested that modern Przewalski's horses may descend from the domesticated horses of the Botai culture.
Le Villaret, located in the Cevennes National Park in southern France and run by the Association Takh, is a breeding site for Przewalski's horses that was created to allow the free expression of natural Przewalski's horse behaviors. In 1993, eleven zoo-born horses were brought to Le Villaret. Horses born there are adapted to life in the wild. They are free to choose their own mates and must forage on their own. Such a unique breeding site was necessary to produce the individuals that were reintroduced to Mongolia in 2004 and 2005. In 2012, 39 individuals were at Le Villaret.

"The Przewalski's Horse Reintroduction Project of China was initiated in 1985 when 11 wild horses were imported from overseas. After more than two decades of effort, the Xinjiang Wild Horse Breeding Centre has bred a large number of the horses, 55 of which were released into the Kalamely Mountain area. The animals quickly adapted to their new environment. In 1988, six foals were born and survived, and by 2001, over 100 horses were at the centre. As of 2013, the center hosted 127 horses divided into 13 breeding herds and three bachelor herds."

After descriptions of the effort to reproduce the horses after the world population dwindled to 12, we get this entry:

"In 2020, the first cloned Przewalski’s horse was born. In a collaboration between ViaGen, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), and Revive and Restore, the foal was cloned from a genetically important stallion that had been born in the United Kingdom in 1975 and died in 1998. Its cells had been cryopreserved at the SDZG Frozen Zoo since 1980."

message 11: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
The Icelandic Horse is a small horse breed: see Wikipedia.

"Developed from ponies taken to Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries, the breed is mentioned in literature and historical records throughout Icelandic history; the first reference to a named horse appears in the 12th century. Horses were venerated in Norse mythology, a custom brought to Iceland by the country's earliest settlers. Selective breeding over the centuries has developed the breed into its current form. Natural selection has also played a role, as the harsh Icelandic climate eliminated many horses through cold and starvation. In the 1780s, much of the breed was wiped out in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption at Laki. The first breed society for the Icelandic horse was created in Iceland in 1904, and today the breed is represented by organizations in 19 different nations, organized under a parent association, the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations."

They have typically an upright mane, may have stripes on the legs, and have special gaits.

" The first additional gait is a four-beat lateral ambling gait known as the tölt. This is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering.[7] There is considerable variation in style within the gait, and thus the tölt is variously compared to similar lateral gaits such as the rack of the Saddlebred, the largo of the Paso Fino, or the running walk of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Like all lateral ambling gaits, the footfall pattern is the same as the walk (left hind, left front, right hind, right front), but differs from the walk in that it can be performed at a range of speeds, from the speed of a typical fast walk up to the speed of a normal canter. Some Icelandic horses prefer to tölt, while others prefer to trot; correct training can improve weak gaits, but the tölt is a natural gait present from birth.
"The breed also performs a pace called a skeið, flugskeið or "flying pace". It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth,[2][4] with some horses able to reach up to 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).[10] Not all Icelandic horses can perform this gait; animals that perform both the tölt and the flying pace in addition to the traditional gaits are considered the best of the breed."

message 12: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Gorgeous photo of Konik horses crossing a river in the wild.

"In a previous blog, Deputy Director of ARK Nature Esther Blom described not only the ecological benefits of these large herbivores, but also the considerable legal challenges posed when Konik horses naturally cross the Meuse within the park and effectively enter a foreign country. Now, in a newly published GrazeLIFE report, ARK Nature and grazing expert Renée Meissner of Dutch non-profit organisation Herds and Homelands provide more detail on some of these challenges and offer possible solutions to enable the freer movement of grazers.

In natural and semi-natural herds of Konik horses, young stallions will periodically leave the herd to see if they have more luck with the ladies elsewhere. In the Meuse Valley, this involves a spectacular swim across the River Meuse to look for mares on the other side.

These intrepid crossings take place infrequently now, but are expected to become more common as water levels in the Meuse drop and the river becomes more fordable. It is expected that bovines will also begin to cross the border, as the populations of both species continue to grow and seek out new territory and animals learn how and where to cross the river. "

message 13: by Roland (new)

Roland Clarke (goodreadscomroland_clarke) | 19 comments Clare wrote: "Gorgeous photo of Konik horses crossing a river in the wild.

"In a previous blog, Deputy Dire..."

Fascinating article with interesting potential from that park and the herds there. Thanks or sharing that, Clare.

message 14: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Rewilding is becoming hugely interesting and I'm finding many posts about it on Linked In.

message 15: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Another story about the foal cloned from a Przewalski's horse.

In this we get a clip of the foal gambolling around with his mother.

message 16: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
This interesting article suggests that hoofed mammals may have developed on India before India collided with Asia, and then these ancestors of horses, tapirs and rhinos dispersed.

"Rose added: "In 2004 our team was able to return to the mine, where our Belgian collaborator Thierry Smith found the first mammal fossils, including Cambaytherium."

Encouraged, the team returned to the mines and collected fossilized bones of Cambaytherium and many other vertebrates, despite challenging conditions.

"The heat, the constant noise and coal dust in the lignite mines were tough—basically trying to work hundreds of feet down near the bottom of open-pit lignite mines that are being actively mined 24/7," he said.

Through the cumulation of many years of challenging fieldwork, the team can finally shed light on a mammal mystery. Despite the abundance of perissodactyls in the Northern Hemisphere, Cambaytherium suggests that the group likely evolved in isolation in or near India during the Paleocene (66-56 million years ago), before dispersing to other continents when the land connection with Asia formed."

More information: Kenneth D. Rose et al, Anatomy, Relationships, and Paleobiology of Cambaytherium (Mammalia, Perissodactylamorpha, Anthracobunia) from the lower Eocene of western India, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (2020). DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2020.1761370
Journal information: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
Provided by Taylor & Francis

message 17: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
"A shipment of 20 Konik horses has just been released onto Ermakov Island in the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta rewilding area. The animals, which were translocated from Latvia at the end of October, are now roaming free and will enhance wild nature through their browsing, grazing and fertilising. They will also help to attract more tourists to the area, thereby boosting the local economy.

The animals join a 23-strong herd of Koniks and a herd of 18 water buffalo (released in two shipments) here in 2019. Both of these herds have acclimatised well to their new environment, with three Konik foals and three buffalo calves born this year. Herds of four red deer and 12 fallow deer were also released on Ermakov Island in early December."

message 18: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Cuckoo's Flight

Just read this one, about horses in Bronze Age Crete. This is a YA fiction book but any horse fans will be pleased. Coming out in March 2021.

message 19: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
The Scythians were a horse-riding nomadic people of the Eurasian steppe. Remember how hard it would be to bury someone without a well-made iron shovel when you look at these archaeological digs.

"Because of their interactions and conflicts with the major contemporaneous civilizations of Eurasia, the Scythians enjoy a legendary status in historiography and popular culture. The Scythians had major influences on the cultures of their powerful neighbors, spreading new technologies such as saddles and other improvements for horse riding. The ancient Greek, Roman, Persian and Chinese empires all left a multitude of sources describing, from their perspectives, the customs and practices of the feared horse warriors that came from the interior lands of Eurasia."

More information: "Ancient genomic time-transect from the Central Asian Steppe unravels the history of the Scythians" Science Advances (2021). … .1126/sciadv.abe4414
Journal information: Science Advances
Provided by Max Planck Society

message 20: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod

"Since the disaster, the area has become a haven for elk, wolves - and the stocky endangered breed of wild horse native to Asia, Przewalski's horse.

The breed, named after Russian scientist Nikolai Przewalski who discovered it in the Asia expansive Gobi desert, became all but extinct by the middle of the 20th century, partially due to overhunting.

It was reintroduced by scientists to areas of Mongolia, China and Russia as part of preservation efforts.

In a different program, 30 of the horses were released into the Chernobyl zone in 1998, replacing an extinct horse native to the region, the Tarpan."

message 21: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Sorraia horses are a remnant of the population of the European wild horse. This article explains how they are being reintroduced to their native Portugal as part of a rewilding and biodiversity project.

message 22: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
"A new study of ancient DNA from horse fossils found in North America and Eurasia shows that horse populations on the two continents remained connected through the Bering Land Bridge, moving back and forth and interbreeding multiple times over hundreds of thousands of years.
"Paleontologists have long known that horses evolved and diversified in North America. One lineage of horses, known as the caballine horses (which includes domestic horses) dispersed into Eurasia over the Bering Land Bridge about 1 million years ago, and the Eurasian population then began to diverge genetically from the horses that remained in North America.

The new study shows that after the split, there were at least two periods when horses moved back and forth between the continents and interbred, so that the genomes of North American horses acquired segments of Eurasian DNA and vice versa.

"This is the first comprehensive look at the genetics of ancient horse populations across both continents," said first author Alisa Vershinina,"

More information: Alisa O. Vershinina et al, Ancient horse genomes reveal the timing and extent of dispersals across the Bering Land Bridge, Molecular Ecology (2021). DOI: 10.1111/mec.15977
Journal information: Molecular Ecology
Provided by University of California - Santa Cruz

message 23: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Where did horse domestication begin?

"An international team of researchers has found via genetic testing that horse domestication very likely did not begin in Anatolia as has been thought. Instead, it appears more likely that horses were first domesticated in the Eurasian Steppe and were subsequently imported to both the Caucasus and Anatolia. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes their exhaustive study of ancient horse remains from a host of locations in eastern parts of Asia, the Caucasus and Anatolia.
"Over time, domestication has led to changes in the coat color of horses. They found lineages present in modern domestic horses that appeared suddenly in 2,000 BCE horses (as opposed to showing up over time) which suggested that domestication had occurred elsewhere. A sharp change in coat colors also suggested horses had been brought to the region from somewhere else.
"The researchers also found evidence of imported domesticated horses being bred with wild Anatolian horses, and also donkeys. They found evidence of the earliest known mule in southwest Asia."

More information: Silvia Guimaraes et al. Ancient DNA shows domestic horses were introduced in the southern Caucasus and Anatolia during the Bronze Age, Science Advances (2020). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb0030
Journal information: Science Advances
© 2020 Science X Network

message 24: by Angela (new)

Angela (angelayd) | 7 comments Wow, interesting! Thanks for sharing!

message 25: by Angela (new)

Angela (angelayd) | 7 comments Clare wrote: "Sorraia horses are a remnant of the population of the European wild horse. This article explains how they are being reintroduced to their native Portugal as part of a rewilding and biodiversity pro..."

What a great program! I'm so glad this is being done. I've always thought Sorraia horses were beautiful!

message 26: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
So much positive news is coming out of rewilding programmes.

message 27: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
In the domestication origins article, I love the charts of coat colours. You can just see it - as soon as someone showed up with a horse that wasn't brown, everyone wanted one!

message 28: by Angela (new)

Angela (angelayd) | 7 comments Lol! I know I’d want one in the new colour too.

message 29: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
This article is fascinating if you want to get an idea of how languages changed over thousands of years.
Here's the relevant horsey bit.

"In the 1950s, archaeological discoveries backed up this theory with remnants of an ancient culture that existed in that region from 6,000 to 8,000 years ago. Those people used to build kurgans, burial mountains, that archaeologists excavated to study cultural remains. In that process, scholars not only learned more about the Proto-Indo-Europeans but also why they were able to migrate across Europe and Asia.

In turned out that, in the past, the grassy plains of steppe that run from Western China to the Black Sea had large herds of wild horses. Early humans hunted them for food, but the Proto-Indo-Europeans were probably the first people who domesticated the ancestors of modern-day domestic horses. That brought them an enormous advantage, allowing them to move a lot faster than any other human group. Then, they adopted—or, less likely, invented—wheeled vehicles and attached these to horses.
“That’s probably the moment when they suddenly managed to expand into the Middle East, into India, and across Europe,” says Guy. “Within the next thousands of years, they expanded like no other human group that we know about in history. Because [now] they had mobility, which nobody else had.”"

message 30: by Angela (new)

Angela (angelayd) | 7 comments It’s astounding the influence the horse has had on humanity.

message 31: by Clare (new)

message 32: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
The Horse Goddess
The Horse Goddess by Morgan Llywelyn

A story of Epona, whose name was then given to a horse goddess of the Celts.

message 33: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod

"Wild horses once roamed widely across Europe. They helped to maintain biodiversity-rich mosaic (half-open, half-wooded) landscapes through their grazing, trampling and other behaviour, and were an important part of local food webs. Over time, populations of such horses declined dramatically due to hunting pressure and the rise of domestic livestock and agriculture, and eventually disappeared completely.

Yet while the European wild horse is officially extinct, its genetic material is still found in many European native horse breeds, such as the Exmoor ponies of the United Kingdom and the Hucul ponies of Eastern Europe’s Carpathian Mountains. These rugged animals still boast many of the characteristics of their ancestors, making them particularly suitable for rewilding and the grazing of wild habitats.

Another example is the endangered Polesskaya (or Polesian) horse, a compact and incredibly hardy animal which has lived for centuries in the marshy and forested lowlands of Polesia in southern Belarus.

The Polesskaya horse has been threatened by a variety of socio-economic factors, with the breed suffering from a complete lack of targeted breeding.

In recent times, the survival of the Polesskaya horse has been threatened by a variety of socio-economic factors, with the breed suffering from a complete lack of targeted breeding. Established in 2021, the “Reintroducing the Polesskaya horse” initiative – a collaboration between the Institute of Genetics and Cytology at the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (IGC) and the Sporovksky Nature Reserve – aims to improve the status of the breed by establishing a population of horses in the reserve. Here they can play an important role maintaining the biodiversity of the reserve’s unique complex of low-lying marshes."

This seems to me to be closest to the coldblood horse, from which today's heavy horses are descended.

Here is an article specifically about this horse and its reintroduction.

"The Polesskaya horse is the oldest population in Europe bred in the Pripyat River basin, it is assumed to be descended from the forest tarpan. The Polesskaya aboriginal horse population has long been used in the southern regions of Belarus. The population is perfectly adapted to local conditions – very high humidity, an abundance of blood-sucking insects, and poor and poorly nutritious food. The horses are healthy, reproduce successfully and live a long life, while doing any kind of harness (draught) or horse-riding work in arduous conditions. Due to the active intensification, including mechanization, of agriculture and the drive for high production indicators in animal husbandry, some local breeds traditionally used by the population appeared to be on the verge of extinction. As a result, the Polesskaya horse population has now reached its critical status of “disappearing” due to a rapid decrease in its number. All these years, no targeted breeding work was carried out, but the horse population has survived to our times.

The main project goal is to return the Polesskaya horse population to the conditions of its free habitation with limited human interference and ensuring not only the breeding and conservation of the local breed, but also the restoration of ecosystems of floodplain meadows prone to overgrowing."

message 34: by Clare (last edited Dec 13, 2021 02:55AM) (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
The prehistoric Yukon horse is discussed in this article.

""Although mammoths are gone forever, horses are not" says Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History, another co-author. "The horse that lived in the Yukon 5,000 years ago is directly related to the horse species we have today, Equus caballus. Biologically, this makes the horse a native North American mammal, and it should be treated as such."

Scientists also stress the need to gather and archive more permafrost samples, which are at risk of being lost forever as the Arctic warms."

Journal information: Nature Communications
Provided by McMaster University

message 35: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod

This shows a colourful infographic about when some animals were domesticated. The horse is featured, but not the donkey, which came earlier than the camel.

message 36: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
When and where did we domesticate donkeys? North east Africa looks to be the oldest place that humans were keeping donkeys.

"Donkeys are a ubiquitous beast of burden, and are regularly employed to slog materials across long distances, just like they were in the ancient past. Now, a team of geneticists has pinpointed exactly how ancient that past is: They believe they’ve determined when and where the first donkeys were domesticated.

By looking at 238 donkey genomes—31 of which belonged to ancient donkeys—the team identified a domestication event in East Africa that dates to about 5,000 BCE, slightly earlier than the earliest archaeological evidence of domesticated donkeys. Their research is published today in the journal Science."

"“We located the Horn+Kenya as the region hosting those donkeys today that are the closest to those first domesticated,” said study co-author Ludovic Orlando, a geneticist at the Université Paul Sabatier in France,
The researchers also mapped clear dispersal patterns of donkeys between western Africa and Europe that stretch back to Roman times and identified a previously unknown donkey lineage in the Levant that existed about 2,200 years ago.

Among the over 200 donkey genomes they interrogated were the genetic information from three jennies (female donkeys) and six jacks (males) from Roman France. The site, which dates to between 200 CE and 500 CE, appears to have been a breeding ground for large donkeys. The research team suspects that the site may have just been one of many, helping sate the demand for donkeys across the Roman Empire."

message 37: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
The first known hybrid animal was not quite a mule, but a donkey hybrid. Donkeys were small and the untameable Syrian wild ass was bigger, so people managed to breed them.

A photo in this article shows 'The Standard of Ur' with large ass-like animals pulling chariots. They have short upright manes and long ears, and thin tails with a fluff of hair at the end. Four asses, if you count the tails, are pulling a solid-looking war chariot with solid wheels, carrying two men with weapons in a battle. They look to be moving faster than a plod, so were strong and fast and quite impressive.

"A team of geneticists, archaeologists, and paleontologists believes they’ve settled the identity of an enigmatic equid from ancient Mesopotamia. That animal is a kunga, which the researchers show was a cross between a female donkey and a male Syrian wild ass.

Kungas were valuable in Mesopotamia, costing up to six times as much as a donkey. The large equids were used in royal dowries, to pull vehicles of the elite and tow chariots in war, while smaller kungas were used in agriculture. But their identity has long been in dispute; some researchers thought that kungas were merely onagers, a type of wild ass.

The team analyzed 25 equid skeletons found at a 4,500-year-old elite burial ground about 34 miles east of Aleppo, Syria. Some of the animals appeared to be deliberately killed for burial. Analysis of the equids indicated the creatures were not horses, asses, or onagers. That led researchers to believe they may be a hybrid animal. The skeletons’ teeth were worn, suggesting that in life they wore bits.

To certify the identity of the skeletons, the team compared genetic samples from the bones to an equid sample from the famous archaeological site Göbekli Tepe in Turkey and to the last surviving Syrian wild asses (now dead), which are conserved at the Natural History Museum of Vienna, in Austria.

Using polymerase chain reaction and shotgun sequencing to amplify the DNA, the researchers found that the Turkish sample was the same species as the animals conserved in Austria, and represented the paternal lineage of the skeletons in Syria. The donkey (E. africanus) was the maternal lineage of the mystery equid, and, based on the Y-chromosome fragments from the samples, the Syrian wild ass, or hemippe (E. hemionus) was the paternal lineage. Later Syrian wild asses were smaller than kungas, so the team posits that surviving wild asses were a smaller descendant of earlier members of the species."

Warning that this article contains a photo of animal skeletons in a burial.

message 38: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 552 comments Mod
Donkey stables and special imported fodder were found during excavations of King Solomon's Mines.

"In the remarkably intact two-room fortification, located in one of the largest smelting camps in the Timna Valley, the researchers also found evidence of a complex long-distance trade system that probably included the northern Edomite plateau, the Mediterranean coastal plain and Judea. The complex featured pens for draught animals and other livestock. According to precise pollen, seed, and fauna analyses, they were fed with hay and grape pomace—high-quality sustenance that must have been delivered from the Mediterranean region hundreds of miles away."

More information: Erez Ben-Yosef et al, Beyond smelting: New insights on Iron Age (10th c. BCE) metalworkers community from excavations at a gatehouse and associated livestock pens in Timna, Israel, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.12.010
Provided by Tel Aviv University

back to top