Speaker Series – William Taylor
November 21, 2016 @ 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm
The Origins of Horse Herding and Transport in the Eastern Steppe
In the dry steppes of eastern Eurasia, domestic horses (E. caballus) provide the economic and cultural foundations of nomadic life. With no written records and sparse archaeological data, the ecological context of the first horse herding and transport – and its role in the formation of nomadic pastoral societies – is poorly understood. Some of the earliest evidence for domestic horses in the region come from small ritual horse burials found at stone monuments and burials known as deer stones and khirigsuurs, which date to the late second millennium BCE. Archaeozoological investigations reveal that these people selectively bred horses, practicing sophisticated herd management and equine dentistry. Analysis of anthropogenic changes to the equine skull indicate that these animals were bridled and used for transport, and may have engaged in early mounted horseback riding. Finally, a precision radiocarbon model suggests a rapid expansion of domestic horse use across Mongolia around ca. 1200 BCE. This expansion occurred in the context of climate amelioration, concurrent with both major changes in ritual practice and the spread of horses to new parts of the continent. These results provide compelling links between the adoption of horseback riding, new ecological opportunities, and the development of mobile pastoralism in the Mongolian steppe. Future research will explore the subject of when and why other domestic animals were adopted in Mongolia, and investigate the effects of horse riding on mobility and interaction across eastern Eurasia.