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Genome study shows how horses galloped into history

The advent of transportation by horses it represented one of the key moments for humanity, connecting ancient peoples by allowing them to move quickly over long distances for the first time and, at the same time, transforming the way wars were fought.

But the moment of domestication of horses and the subsequent widespread use of horse power have been controversial. An analysis of genome data from 475 ancient and 77 modern horses is shedding light on the question . She revealed that domestication actually occurred twice—the first was a dead end—and traced the emergence of horse-based mobility to around 2,200 BC in Eurasia, centuries later than previously thought.

“The domestication of animals, in general, changed human history, but no other animal was a kingmaker like the horse,” said evolutionary biologist Pablo Librado of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) in Barcelona, ​​and previously from France’s CNRS research agency, lead author of the study published this week in Nature magazine .

“Think of Genghis Khan, with an empire that stretches from the Sea of ​​Japan to the gates of Europe. The world as we know it today was shaped by horses . Think about agriculture, how important horses were as working animals. Think of New York or Washington 200 years ago, with horse-drawn carriages on the streets,” Librado said.

Genomic evidence has shown that horses were first domesticated in Central Asia, more precisely in northern Kazakhstan, around 5,500 years ago, by people from the so-called Botai culture. However, this domestication was based on obtaining meat and milk rather than transportation, and it did not spread. The wild horses of Przewalsk in Mongolia are descended from these Botai horses.

Domestication of a second equine lineage began about 4,700 years ago in the western Russian steppes, trotting over a period of centuries before horse-based mobility suddenly galloped across Eurasia about 4,200 years ago, the study finds. All modern domestic horses have their origins in this event.

Genomic evidence revealed a change in breeding practices at that time to satisfy the demand for horses. People doubled their horse production capacity by halving the time between generations, from eight to four years, according to molecular archaeologist and study co-author Ludovic Orlando of the Center for Anthropobiology and Genomics in Toulouse, France.

“We detected the mating of close relatives only from that time onwards, and not in a deeper past. This is a practice that wild or domestic horses tend to avoid, unless breeders force them to mate with their relatives, to maintain and select for certain valuable traits, such as greater docility,” said Librado.

“After horses spread across Eurasia and the pressure to expand them further in space and numbers eased, horse generation times returned to normal patterns. Generation times have only been reduced again in the last 200 years, following industrial breeding — the emergence of new types of horse breeds adapted to specific tasks,” added Librado.

Horse-based mobility allowed people to move quickly over great distances, accelerating communication and trade networks in Europe and Asia and enabling exchanges and interactions between diverse cultures. Chariots and cavalry reshaped warfare.

“This ushered in a new era in human history, when the world became smaller and more global. This era lasted until the invention of combustion engines in the late 19th century,” said Orlando.

“How many empires rose and fell because of powerful cavalry?” asked Librado.

“We believe that a key element in the early dispersal of horses was the invention of spoke-wheeled carriages, which, unlike heavier carts, could be drawn by horses rather than cattle, for the first time in human history.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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