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American Association for the Advancement of Science

The world's first horse farm

A mare being milked in a traditional village in northern Kazakhstan.

The domestication, or taming, of wild horses was an important accomplishment for the human race. In fact, it altered the course of human history. Taming wild horses have changed the ways we travel, the ways we communicate, and even the ways we fight wars with each other. But, until now, researchers have never been able to identify events in human history that tell us when (or where) humans first made this breakthrough.

Now, some exciting new discoveries by Alan Outram and a team of reserachers from Europe, Asia, and the United States suggest that the ancient Botai Culture was one of the first groups of humans to domesticate horses. The Botai Culture lived in what is now Northern Kazakhstan about 5700 to 5100 years ago. These researchers believe the Botai were among the first people in the world to accomplish this feat because of three new pieces of evidence that they have found.

First, the researchers compared the bones of ancient Botai horses to other horses throughout history, and found that they were similar to Bronze Age domestic horses. The Botai horses seem close to these tame horses, and they do not resemble the wild horses from that same region and time period.

Secondly, the researchers studied the teeth of Botai horses, and found specific markings on them. The markings on the horses' teeth indicate that the animals were bitted or bridled like modern horses today. These marking strongly suggest that the ancient Botai Culture fitted their horses with bridles in order to ride them.

Finally, by analyzing organic residues in Botai pottery, the researchers also found traces of ancient horse milk. Outram and his colleagues were even able to determine that the Botai horses were milked during summer months.

These three new findings will be published in the next issue of Science, and they seem to confirm that at least some of the horses at Botai were domesticated. The significant discovery provides evidence of the earliest horse taming event in human history that we have discovered so far.


This research appears in the 6 March 2009 issue of Science.