In a study published this week in the journal Nature, scientists analyzed ancient horse genomes from all suspected domestication centers, including Iberia, Anatolia and the steppes of Western Eurasia and Central Asia.
Horse domestication transformed long-range mobility and warfare, but the genetic and geographic origins of modern domestic horses remain unknown.
Currently, there is evidence for a domestic horse lineage associated with the Botai settlement in Central Asia around 3500 BCE, but these ancient horses are known not to be related to modern domestic horses.
“We knew that the time period between 4,000 to 6,000 years ago was critical but no smoking guns could ever be found,” said study senior author Professor Ludovic Orlando, a researcher in the Centre d’Anthropobiologie et de Génomique de Toulouse at the Université Paul Sabatier.
To pinpoint the homeland of the modern domestic horse, Professor Orlando and his colleagues gathered remains from 273 ancient horses from locations previously considered to be possible regions of horse domestication.
Through the analysis of DNA isolated from these specimens, they identified a domestication center in the Western Eurasian steppes, especially the lower Volga-Don region, from which horses spread across the world 4,200 years ago.
“The genetic data also point to an explosive demography at the time, with no equivalent in the last 100,000 years,” Professor Orlando said.
“This is when we took control over the reproduction of the animal and produced them in astronomic numbers.”
The researchers further linked critical movement and behavioral adaptations in horses — including endurance, weight-bearing ability, docility and stress resilience — that are associated with horseback riding to the positive selection of two genes: GSDMC and ZFPM1.
“Horseback riding and the use of spoke-wheeled war chariots supported the spread of the newly-domesticated horses, and within around 500 years of the initial domestication, this new horse breed replaced all other previous populations across Eurasia,” they said.
P. Librado et al. The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes. Nature, published online October 20, 2021; doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04018-9
Source link: https://www.sci.news/paleontology/horse-domestication-western-eurasian-steppes-10191.html