Horse riding, practice of five thousand years old

The study of skeletons of Yamnaya, a people of nomadic breeders who lived on the borders of Europe and Asia, reveals traces of pathologies that are found in horsemen.

by Pierre Barthélémy

In his encyclopedic Natural History, Buffon (1707-1788) has this famous formula to describe the horse: “The most noble conquest that man has ever made.” Further, he adds that “the domesticity of these animals is even if universal, so old, that we only rarely see them in their natural state “. Old, the domestication of the horse? Yes, but how many millennia? An article in paleogenetics published in 2021 showed that the origin of our modern, docile horses and on a solid back, dates back 2,200 BC. J.-C.

Should we consider that their predecessors were not domesticated? “There is a debate between researchers on the date of domestication of the horse. Some bring it back to the v e millennium before our era, others to the iv e millennium , others in III e “, explains Volker Heyd. To this learned dispute, this professor of archeology at the University of Helsinki brings a new element with an international study which he led and which, published Friday March 3 in Science Advances , assures that horse riding was mastered by the Yamnay culture ago there are five thousand years.

The Yamnaya were a people of nomadic breeders from the steppes who run from the north of the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. They subsequently overwhelmed this territory, sinking, to the east, to the borders of China and, to the west, to the Balkans. Before their descendants overwhelm all the rest of Europe in the III millennium before our era, largely providing the genetic substrate of modern Europeans.

Has this rapid and unstoppable migratory wave been favored by the use of horses? Did the Yamnaya control the horse riding? If we find bones of equines, sometimes in very large quantities, on the archaeological sites linked to this culture, it is impossible to determine what these mammals were used for. Simple cattle? Draft animals? Prestige goods? Or actual real? The bones cannot say the use that was made of it and we have not uncovered harnessed parts, probably because, if they existed, they were made of perishable materials.

It has not discouraged the researchers, who know that horse riding is an interaction between the mount and its rider. If there was no trace on the bones of the horses, perhaps she would have left them on the human skeletons … “The Yamnaya went up without saddle or calipers, just raw. It was necessary to keep a constant pressure of the legs, this which leaves traces on the femurs and the basin. I would not speak of pathologies, but an adaptation to an athletic activity “, specifies Volker Heyd.

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/Media reports cited above.