March 6, 2009

Domestic horses traced to Kazakhstan

An international team of researchers has traced the lineage of the earliest known domestic horses to Kazakhstan.

The findings, published in the journal Science, suggest horses were ridden by humans as early as 5,500 years ago, the National Science Foundation said Friday. Archaeologists say the research supports the hypothesis that the horses of Northern Kazakhstan contributed largely to the development of neighboring cultures.

Having a domesticated animal that could be eaten, milked, ridden, used as a pack animal and potentially for haulage would have had a tremendous impact on any society that initiated or adopted horse herds, Sandra Olsen, curator of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pa., said in a statement.

Lead author Alan Outram of Exeter College in Britain said the findings change the understanding of how early societies in the region developed. The domestication of horses is known to have had immense social and economic significance, advancing communications, transport, food production and warfare, he said.