Paleogenetics uncovers the introduction of domestic horses in southwest Asia 4,000 years ago

The domestication of wild animals is a crucial step in the development of past societies. While the first animals that were domesticated ca. 10-9,000 years ago for economic reasons in the Fertile Crescent in southwest Asia to increase the reliability of the subsistence resources, horses were domesticated much later, supposedly around 5,000 years ago.

It is still unclear where this happened. One of the areas under scrutiny for this process was Anatolia. The Epigenome and Paleogenome group of the Institut Jacques Monod in collaboration with archaeozoologists from the US, Europe and Armenia tackled this question using a paleogenetic approach. This is challenging in this area for climatic reasons leading to poor DNA preservation. Nevertheless, the methodological improvements of ancient DNA research performed by the IJM team yielded genetic results from archaeological bones originating from this area. Not only mitochondrial DNA could be analyzed but also nuclear DNA of alleles involved in the coat color of horses. The diversification of the coat color has been shown to be associated with the initial domestication of horses. These results published in Science Advances demonstrate that wild Anatolian horses were not domesticated locally in Anatolia, but rather that domestic horses were introduced into Transcaucasia and Anatolia during the Bronze Age around 4,000 years ago, probably through the Caucasus.

Guimaraes et al., Sci. Adv. 2020; 6 : eabb0030 16 September 2020

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