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Equine Vet J Suppl. 1999 Apr;(28):6-14.

Investigating the origins of horse domestication.

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  • McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK.


Before the development of firearms, the horse was crucial to warfare and, before the invention of the steam engine, it was the fastest and most reliable form of land transport. It is crucial to the life of nomadic pastoralists on the Eurasian steppe and played a major role in the evolution of human society during the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Understanding the human past requires knowledge of the origins and development of horse husbandry. The problem of being able to identify the early stages of horse domestication is one that many researchers have grappled with for the most part unsuccessfully. Until recently the most important criteria used had been that of increased relative abundance. That is, around 3500 BC, in some parts of Eurasia, there was an apparent increase in the proportions of horse bones and teeth found in archaeological deposits by comparison with preceding periods. However, other evidence suggests that the observed increase during the Copper Age could be explained as well, or even better, by increased hunting rather than by domestication.

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