In DepthANCIENT DNA

Finding the first horse tamers

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Science  11 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6389, pp. 587
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6389.587

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Summary

Taming horses opened a new world to prehistoric people, allowing them to travel farther and faster than ever before, and revolutionizing military conquest. But who first domesticated the horse—and the genetic and cultural impact of those early riders—has long been a puzzle. The "steppe hypothesis" suggested that Bronze Age pastoralists known as the Yamnaya, or their close relatives, first domesticated the horse. Aided by its fleet transport, they migrated out from the Eurasian steppe and spread their genes, as well as precursors of today's Indo-European languages, across much of Eurasia. But a new study of ancient genomes, published online in Science this week, suggests these migrants' impact on Asia was limited, and that a Central Asian hunting and gathering culture, the Botai, domesticated the horse first. The new data also have important implications for the spread of Indo-European languages.

  • * Michael Price is a journalist in California.