Horse domestication began 6000 years ago

By AAP with AG staff 8 May 2012
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Domestication of horses has been traced back to 6000 years ago, according to a new study.

THE DOMESTICATION OF HORSES has been traced to wide-open grasslands shared by Ukraine, southwest Russia and Kazakhstan, researchers say.

UK researchers conducted a genetic study of horses across Eastern Europe and Central and found that domestication started about 6000 years ago.

However, genetic evidence taken from modern-day horses has suggested a wide variety of ancestors, raising the possibility that horses were tamed independently in several different places.

The University of Cambridge’s Vera Warmuth said she and her colleagues used a combination of genetics and maths to narrow down the origin of horse domestication to the “western Eurasian steppe” – an area now shared by Kazakhstan, southwest Russia and Ukraine.

The research, released on Monday, followed 16 years of collecting hair samples from more than 300 horses in Russia, China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Lithuania – areas where horses were the first to be domesticated and weren’t too heavily bred.

Horse diversity explained by domestication

Vera said fellow researchers took hair samples from ‘local village-type horses’, simple animals whose genetic profiles would be less likely to have been deformed by inbreeding or crossbreeding typical of their Western European cousins.

She said the horses’ genetic profiles were compared to various scenarios plugged into established mathematical models that measure how populations spread and change over time.

The results suggested that the wide diversity of horse DNA could be explained by the frequent breeding of domesticated male horses with wild mares brought in by early horseback riders because “breeding with existing stock was too slow”, Vera said.

Mark Thomas, a professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London, who was not involved with the research, said he believed the methodology was sound.

The research was published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.