Community home page
Before the development of firearms, the horse was crucial to warfare and before the invention of the steam engine, it was the fastest and most reliable form of land transport. Today its importance in the undeveloped and developing world has scarcely diminished and even in the developed world it is of great economic importance to sport and leisure industries. Nevertheless, in spite of intensive investigations over many years, researchers know very little about the origins and evolution of horse husbandry or the osteological consequences of riding and traction.
Throughout the 2nd half of the 20th century it has been virtually axiomatic that the settlement of the central Eurasian steppe was dependent upon the domestication of the horse (e.g., Anthony 1986, Gimbutas 1991) . Connected with this has been the assumption that the steppe pioneers would have been pastoralist horsemen of warlike disposition. Almost all interpretations of the Eastern European Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age are based upon one assumption or another about horse domestication - most commonly that it was domesticated during the Eneolithic (c. 4500-3000 BC) for meat and transport. Whether or not this was the case, the question of horse exploitation is of utmost importance to the study of this period.
Dereivka, a Ukrainian settlement site (4500-3500 BC), has been central to the problem of the origins of horse domestication because it has been regarded for the past three decades as the site with the earliest evidence of horse husbandry (e.g. Anthony & Brown 1991, Bökönyi 1978, Telegin 1986). However, recent research, which has demonstrated that the vast majority (if not the totality) of these animals were almost certainly wild, has led to a radical reassessment of the origins of horse husbandry (Levine 1990, Levine 1999a). The development of new interdisciplinary research methods - for example, palaeopathology and population structure analyses - has played a crucial role in altering our perspectives. Because it is most unlikely that any direct evidence of horse domestication will be recoverable from the period of its earliest origins (perhaps from around 4500 to 3000 BC), a multi-dimensional, inter-disciplinary approach is necessary to make the best use of indirect evidence (Levine 1999a). Initial research by Levine et al (2000) has shown palaeopathological analysis to be an especially valuable addition to the repertoire of methodologies available for investigating the evolution of horse riding.
The basic premise underpinning the palaeopathological approach is that the horse did not evolve in nature to carry a person on its back or to pull chariots and wagons. Isolated empirical observations and anecdotal evidence, suggesting that the kinds and frequencies of abnormalities that we can expect to find in bones of wild horses differ from those of domesticated ones, inspired us to adopt a more systematic approach (e.g. Bökönyi 1968, Baker and Brothwell 1980, Benecke 1994, Rooney 1997). The results of comparisons between skeletons of Exmoor ponies, Scytho-Siberian horses and Medieval horses do, indeed, strongly support this approach (Levine et al. 2000). The stresses associated with riding do differ from those connected with the horse’s natural activities. Moreover, we were also able to show that certain types of back injuries could have been related to the type of saddle in use. For this reason we believe that there is good cause to continue our systematic research into this subject. Furthermore, because the stresses associated with riding are different from those connected with traction, we would expect to be able to distinguish between these two activities in the case of horses used primarily for one or the other. This is not to say that every type of abnormality will be referable to a particular type of human-horse relationship, but rather that working horses consistently show much higher frequencies of certain types of skeletal abnormalities than free-living ones.
This study has the following objectives:
- To achieve a clearer and more detailed understanding of the relationship between specific bone abnormalities and equid lifestyle, and in particular to identify those abnormalities that can be linked with the use of horses for riding or traction; as opposed to those which are also characteristic of free-living horses.
- To identify the types and incidences of bone abnormalities from a wide variety of sources - including both ancient burials and modern comparatives - where the use of the animal in life can be demonstrated with reasonable certainty. This should allow us to investigate whether the patterns of osteological change can be linked to developments in horse husbandry; for example, to changes in saddle and harness technology; and to identify how far modern pathologies are the result of intensive breeding and management.
- To provide a comprehensive description, classification and comparison of the various types of abnormalities macroscopically recognisable in dried horse bone and their aetiology.
- To create a computerised database, including images, of abnormalities in modern and ancient bone that will be easily accessible to other researchers and stimulate a wider appreciation within the archaeological, archaeozoological and veterinary communities of the importance of palaeopathological research and the development of systematic and comparative studies.
The principal data for this project will be as follows:
- Modern ponies and small horses. This includes the 12 Exmoor Pony skeletons already collected, from unridden, free-living herds, to be used as a control population. In collaboration with Prof. Linas Daugnora (Head of Department of Anatomy and Histology, Lithuanian Veterinary Academy, Kaunas), we are acquiring 8-10 modern draught horse skeletons. In collaboration with Mr. Chris Amatt (Wadgalls Farm, Suffolk) we will obtain 5 mature riding horse skeletons.
- Riding horses from ancient burials. Riding horses from the Early Iron Age, Scytho-Siberian sites of Bashadar (2 horses) and Ak-Alakha in the Altai (4 horses) and Lisovichi (1 horse) in the Ukraine, as well as Medieval Turkic skeletons from Ak-Alakha (2 horses), have already been entered into our database. Additionally, Prof. Daugnora will work with us on the study of a collection comprising around 200 Medieval horse skeletons from 4 Lithuanian cemeteries. All of these horses were buried with riding tack, including bits and stirrups. Dr. Anton Ervynck (Institute of the Archaeological Heritage of the Flemish Community), will collaborate with us on the analysis of 2 Scytho-Siberian skeletons from a burial at Kizil (Altai). In collaboration with Dr. Zainullah Samashev (Institute of Archaeology, Almaty, Kazakhstan) we plan to study some of the 24 Early Iron Age horses from Berel’ in the Altai.
- Chariot horses from ancient burials. In collaboration with Dr. Li Shuicheng (Deputy-Director, Department of Archaeology, Peking University), we plan to study horse skeletons from Chinese chariot burials.
- Modern pathological specimens. Specimens from well over 100 horses, available for comparative purposes and curated by Whitwell.
Collections in this community
Results of fieldwork, China 2004
- Recent Submissions
This collection contains numerous images of horse bones and associated metadata.