Thursday, March 11, 2021

 Becoming “Equestrian” in the Bronze Age

Horse teeth, bones, and DNA: Our Earliest Connections

~ report by Anne Wilson-Dooley ~

 Guest speaker for the CAS last month was Dr. Kate Kanne, a major researcher on Bronze Age Hungary when tamed/domesticated horses were arriving in Europe.  Her work has required detailed analysis of archaeological excavated remains, settlement patterns, DNA of horse populations, comparative horse anatomy, and strontium isotope results for both the human and horse populations.

You can watch the entire lecture presented and recorded on Facebook Live: <> where 60 viewers took the opportunity to join a core group of 32 in our Zoom and many more have watched the recording.  

Here are some highlights:

The first documented interaction human and horse was of Neanderthals eating horse meat ca. 400,000 years ago. The importance of horses to Upper Paleolithic peoples is highlighted by the anatomically correct horses beautifully represented in cave paintings such as Chauvet and Lascaux in France and elsewhere.

 Much of the early horse taming/domestication has to be inferred and is centered in the steppes of western Asia.

When did our ancestors begin riding horses? A very important indicator is in the bones of our ancestors. When horseback riding is a usual activity, there is an elongation in the hip socket from essentially circular to more oval; this is more pronounced when individuals have begun to ride as children. Another indicator is from metal bits found in archaeological remains, and wear on the teeth of horses associated with the metal bits. The earliest bridles and bits and saddles were made of organic materials which did not survive, but habitual use of non-metal bits does cause some specific types of erosion on the horse teeth.

Dr. Kanne’s major research area is the Carpathian Basin of central Hungary and its Middle Bronze Age sites, 2000-1450 BCE. Hungary has 1000s of barrows (burial) and settlement sites. It has the richest grasslands of Europe so was a prime location for horse cultures. A very important finding is that in both male and female humans both had the elongated sockets. Citing remains for one site, Érd-Hosszúföldek, she observed ‘it looks like all of the people are riding; probably using horses for riding and traveling.’ This along with other items refutes an assumption that the Middle Bronze Age societies were very hierarchical with men having a primary position and warfare being prevalent. 

The Q + A period following the presentation on Zoom was lively.  Be sure to join us “in person” for our next lecture.

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