Earliest evidence of horsemanship found

Two horses found in Bronze Age tomb in Kazakhstan are the earliest evidence of horsemanship on the archaeological record, 700 years earlier the previous oldest evidence of horseback riding. Evidence of horse breeding goes back to around 2000 B.C., but before this find, the oldest evidence of horse riding dated to around 900 B.C.

The horse burials were discovered in a tomb in the Novoil’inovskiy 2 Cemetery on the banks of the Tobol River in the Eurasian Steppes. The burial ground contains about 30 kurgan mounds dating to the Late Bronze Age — radiocarbon analysis dates the tomb complex to 1890–1774 B.C. —  when the area was occupied by the Petrovka, also known as the Andronovo, culture. In kurgan 5, archaeologists unearthed two graves, the first containing a heap of human bones and four articulated skeletons, the second a pair of articulated horse skeletons. They were identified as domestic horses, distinguishable from their wild cousins by their forehead width, slender limbs and the length of their phalanges and metacarpals. One of them was a stallion, one a mare. The male was about 20 years old when he died; the female about 18.

The horses had been carefully arranged in the grave, their left forelegs cut off and extended forward, the front right lefts bent to connect to the shoulders. Their hind legs extend backwards. These were not positions that could be achieved in nature. People had to cut through ligaments and joints and bind the limbs. Researchers believes this somewhat gruesome tableau was intended to depict a running team of horses.

The Bronze Age Andronovo peoples are known to have raised horses for meat, but the wear patterns on the teeth of both horses and cranium of the stallion are consistent with the wearing of a bridle with mouth and cheekpieces. Three cheekpieces made of bone were buried with them and use-wear analysis indicates they were used to bridle horses. Andronovo people also used horses to pull chariots, but the cheekpieces have never been found in chariot burials. These horses were ridden, not used for food or harnesses to vehicles.

This find indicates that horsemanship was already well-established in the steppe during the Bronze Age when these horses were buried as the tack was fully developed.

One thought on “Earliest evidence of horsemanship found

  1. It was long believed that Przewalski’s Wild Horses were the ancestor of the modern domestic animals but DNA has shown that they are actually feral. All Wild Horses are now extinct.

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