Ancient Horse DNA Illuminates Domestication Process

Photo of gray horse
Thursday, April 27, 2017

DNA analysis of 14 horse skeletons preserved in Russian and Kazakh sites reveals the Scythians, who ruled the area more than 2,000 years ago, were sophisticated breeders. Fierce, nomadic warriors, the Scythians are believed to be among the first to ride horses into battle, helping extend their territory over large parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The remains of the horses who were studied were preserved in permafrost, allowing an international team of researchers to perform the whole genome sequencing revealing that "the Scythians bred for certain characteristics: stockier forelimbs that were thicker and shorter. The horses also had genes for retaining water, perhaps indicating that the mares were milked for human consumption." The New York Times article notes, "The findings also fit an emerging theory of how domestication in general changes animals as they become intertwined with humans."