The World’s First Horsemen Have Explored Europe 5,000 Years Ago


The world’s first horsemen are thought to have roamed the prairies stretching from Europe to Asia 5,000 years ago. Photo/Live Science

SOFIA – The world’s first horsemen are thought to have explored the grasslands stretching from Europe to Asia 5,000 years ago. The ancient riders were part of the Yamnaya culture, a semi-nomadic group of people who roamed Europe and western Asia.

The analysis by archaeologists was based on the discovery of 217 human skeletons from the Pontic-Caspian steppes, a geographical area that stretches from Bulgaria to Kazakhstan. This has been the answer for decades, as researchers debated when horses were domesticated.

In Kazakhstan, a 5,000-year-old horse skeleton shows wear on the teeth that is thought to have come from the bridle. While others discover the possibility of a fenced rope cage.

In the same time period, mare’s milk peptides have been detected in the dental plaque of people from Russia. Importantly, the geographic explosion of the Yamnaya culture, over 4,500 kilometers in just a century or two, suggests that the horse may have served as a transportation animal.

But there is no direct evidence that the Yamnaya culture kept horses regularly. To that end, archaeologist Martin Trautmann of the University of Helsinki in Finland and his colleagues collected data on six diagnostic skeletal features that are collectively called “horseback syndrome”.

Since bone is a living tissue, it will respond to the stress placed on it as the human body adapts. Consistently riding a horse can cause spinal trauma and degeneration, but it can also result in more subtle changes in the bones of the legs and hips.

The World's First Horsemen Have Explored Europe 5,000 Years Ago

In skeletons from 39 sites across Eastern Europe, Trautmann and colleagues found that two dozen skeletons had at least half of the features of horseback syndrome. However, they are most certain about identifying five individuals of the Yamnaya culture who hail from what is now Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary as possible equestrians.

“Our findings provide a strong argument that horseback riding was already a common activity for some Yamnaya individuals as early as 3000 BC,” they wrote in a paper published in Scientific Advances on Friday 3 March 2023.

Most of the skeletons were in such bad condition that the horsemanship could not be analyzed. Taking that into account, however, “we suspect that more than 30% of adult Yamnaya males frequently ride horses,” Trautmann told Live Science Monday (6/3/2023).


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