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Horses domesticated more than 5,000 years ago

DPA/The Local · 28 Apr 2009, 14:18

Published: 28 Apr 2009 14:18 GMT+02:00

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The latest in gene technology recently provided a team of Berlin-based researchers with clues as to when and where wild horses were first tamed: evidence suggests humans entered the picture at least 5,000 years ago on the Ponto-Caspian steppe in modern-day Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Romania.

“This [development] completely altered and reshaped the history of mankind,” explained Arne Ludwig of Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW).

The team conducted its research, which recently appeared in the US journal Science, using the latest breakdowns of colour genes from very old DNA samples. Ludwig noted the process had been difficult due to the poor condition of the DNA, saying that of 152 bones available to test, only 89 could be successfully processed.

Using the variability of the gene for fur colour in horses alive at the time, it could be proven that a large portion of the colours we know today had already been influenced by human horse breeders around 5,000 years ago. This disproved this theory that changes in fur colour occurred as a result of the breeding by humans just over the past few centuries.

Bones found from the last ice age – around 12,000 years ago – confirmed that horses only appeared in the colours brown and black at one time. But human influence sparked a sudden rapid onslaught of colours and mixtures.

And the domestication of horses in turn led to decisive changes for mankind.

“The indo-Germanic languages could really only have migrated the way they did on the backs of horses,” explained Ludwig.

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It wasn’t long before horses – which were usually tamed by farmers – began to influence commerce and even more notably, military strategy.

As pack, draught, and mount animals, horses were one of the fateful factors in the founding and destruction of entire kingdoms, the IZW researchers said. The horse armies of Alexander the Great and Dschingis Khan are the most famous examples of the impact of mankind's other four-legged friend.

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