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Ancient DNA analysis reveals Botai hunter-gatherers first domesticated horses

| | May 23, 2018

[W]ho first domesticated horses is a hotly debated question. One leading hypothesis suggests Bronze Age pastoralists called the Yamnaya were the first to saddle up, using their fleet transport to sweep out from the Eurasian steppe and spread their culture—and their genes—far and wide. But a new study of ancient DNA suggests that wasn’t the case in Asia, and that another culture, the Botai, domesticated the horse first.

The first signs of horse domestication—pottery containing traces of mares’ milk and horse teeth with telltale wear from a riding bit—come from the Botai hunter-gatherers who lived in what is now Kazakhstan from about 3700 B.C.E. to 3100 B.C.E.

To explore the Yamnaya’s legacy in Asia, a team led by geneticist Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom sequenced the whole genomes of 74 ancient Eurasians.

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Surprisingly, the team found no Yamnaya DNA in the three Botai individuals, suggesting the two groups hadn’t mixed, the team reports today in Science. That implies the Botai may have tamed horses on their own, following something called the “prey path” to domestication: hunting, then managing herds for food, and finally—riding. “It’s an extremely important achievement from a group of people we all think of as being pretty simple,” Willerslev says.

Read full, original post: These Asian hunter-gatherers may have been the first people to domesticate horses

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