by Rasha Aridi/Smithsonianmag.com
People have relied on the modern horse to plow fields, charge into battle and traverse long distances for millennia. Horses have transformed human societies with every stride. But scientists have struggled to answer the seemingly simple of question of when and where these animals were domesticated.
It took an international team of more than 160 scientists to pinpoint the origins of the modern horse’s domestication: between 4,200 and 4,700 years ago near the Volga and Don Rivers in southwestern Russia. The team reported their findings this week in the journal Nature.
The researchers collected samples from 273 ancient horses that once lived across Europe and Asia between 50,000 and 200 B.C.E. Using DNA sequencing, the team created a genetic map that allowed them to trace the horses’ lineages. They found four separate lineages, but the one most closely related to modern horses originated in the Volga-Don region, reports Genelle Weule for ABC in Australia.
Their genetic map also revealed that up until about 2,000 B.C.E., horse populations across Europe and Asia were genetically diverse. But within just a few centuries thereafter, the level of variation plummeted, and all domestic horses could be traced back to the population in the Volga-Don region, reports Jonathan Lambert for Science News.