Science

Where did domestic horses come from? Scientists solve a longstanding mystery

It’s the latest discovery in a longstanding quest for the animal’s origin.

Ludovic Orlando

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The histories of humans and horses are deeply intertwined.

But researchers still don’t agree when or where the descendants of today’s horses were first domesticated.

Ludovic Orlando

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We know the ancient Botai people of modern-day Kazakhstan had horses 5,000 years ago.

But a 2018 study uncovered that those equines’ genetics do not match up with the horses of today.

Ludovic Orlando

An October 21 paper in Nature provides new evidence that today’s modern horses were first domesticated in Western Eurasian steppe more than 4,200 years ago.

An international team of scientists analyzed the genomes of 237 horses that lived between 50250 BC and 202 BC to narrow down the origins of the modern horse.

Ludovic Orlando

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Today’s domestic horse, Equus caballus, is only one of two remaining species.

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The other is the feral Przewalski’s horse, Equus ferus przewalskii, which is actually the descendant of the Botai peoples’ domesticated ponies.

Before humans were involved, ancient horse populations were incredibly diverse. In the past 300 years alone their genetics have become even more similar, thanks to selective breeding.

Ludovic Orlando, et. al.

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The Nature study suggests that the descendants of today’s domestic horses came from a region in modern-day Russia called the Volga-Don.

And the next 500 years after domestication, the researchers predict that these horses displaced every other equine species in Eurasia.

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“The genetic data also point to an explosive demography at the time ... this is when we took control over the reproduction of the animal and produced them in astronomic numbers.”

Ludovic Orlando, study author, in a press release

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The researchers also pinpointed two genes that gave the early horses desirable traits for breeding: strong backs and a docile demeanor.