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Found in the Caucasus, the origin of the local horse |  Science

Found in the Caucasus, the origin of the local horse | Science

Although horse domestication is relatively recent, where this evolutionary event occurred has been, until now, a mystery.

Thanks to genetics, it was possible to locate, in the steppes of the North Caucasus, the starting point of the common path between humans and horses.

The horse was domesticated 4,200 years ago, thousands of years after the dog, cow or sheep.

But its domestication “changed human history on an unprecedented scale, for what this animal provided: mobility, speed, a tool of war …”, paleontologist Ludovic Orlando told AFP, who led the search for the cradle of this type of horse and the study was published in the journal Nature. Last Wednesday (20).

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Orlando adds that when humans domesticated the horse, “there was a kind of globalization in the world.”

However, a shroud of mystery remained regarding the origin of the domestic horse and the moment when it outnumbered other wild horses.

“The fossil record (skeletons and teeth) did not show us a clear break point” in time, Orlando says.

So they used another technique: studying fossil DNA, the hereditary genetic material that allows you to go back in time and locate the “zero point” of the animal’s lineage.

Sunset colors the sky in the Caucasus Mountains near Krasnaya Polyana, Russia – Photo: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Kazakhstan, Siberia, the Anatolian Peninsula, the Iberian Peninsula … There were many hypotheses about the origin of the local horse, but none of them gave conclusive results.

That’s why Ludovic Orlando and his international team of 162 scientists decided to “sieve” all the horse samples they could find in Eurasia: the 273 genomes of horses that lived between 200 and 50,000 years ago. These samples were then compared with the genomes of modern domestic horses.

By reading and comparing billions of letters in the genetic code, scientists were able to pinpoint an area where the differences between modern and ancient horses were less clear.

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This is a region in the so-called alpine steppes in the North Caucasus (southwest of Russia), in the basins of the Don and Volga rivers.

By radiocarbon dating, they were able to locate the first domestication 4,200 years ago.

Soon an intense population explosion occurred. The genetic profile spread like gunpowder across Eurasia. In just 500 years, these horses became a “continental element”, replacing all wild horses from the Atlantic to Mongolia.

This success is explained by genetic traits that made them more docile, as well as the development of a more powerful back, which made these animals an excellent medium.

“The expansion was very rapid after the initial domestication. Therefore, it follows that there was an important motive for their reproduction: because they were necessary,” explains the paleontologist.

The study shows how this horse spread to Asia, at the same time as the rod-wheel, used for transportation.

However, towards Europe, the migration of the Indo-European peoples did not take the use of the horse with it. It is already known that its spread across this continent came after the expansion of this population.

For this reason, Ludovic Orlando considers the image of the “horseback nomads of the steppe” to be far from real.

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