For dogs and horses, new data on domestication

It’s set in stone, horses worked for humans way back when. A sculpture of an equid, possibly wearing tack, was found in Al-Magar, on the Arabian Peninsula. Along with other artifacts, it suggests that dogs and horses may have been tamed earlier than thought.

horse domestication al-Magar, Arabian Penisulaa

Possibly 9,000 years old, this horse-like sculpture was found on the Arabian Peninsula.

It all started when a herder dug a hole to water his camels. He found over 300 artifacts, but none as astounding as the first one his backhoe unearthed, the large, 135 Kg (300 lb) harness-wearing horse. Eventually he loaded his Jeep and drove the artifacts to Ryadh, at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.

Archeologists now gather at Al-Magar, a name that means “gathering place,” digging for data in the desert. But once upon a time, when equids and ibex roamed there, Al-Magar’s environment used to be lush pasture and flowing waterfalls, as Michael Petraglia, Oxford Professor, told BBC. Today’s researchers learn about the ancient civilization in Arabia, but also about climate change and how people and animals accommodated to the wet-dry cycles over thousands of years.

The equids of Al-Magar spark Saudi pride in their heritage, reports Peter Harrigan, an Arab and Islamic researcher for Exeter University. Consulting archeologist Dr. Majeed Khan writes:

    It is generally believed (by all European and American scholars) that the horse was initially brought to Arabia from Central Asia or somewhere else. Al-Maqar site denied this hypothetical suggestion and provide solid evidence not only on the presence but domestication of horse in Arabia before several thousand years.

So who tamed the first horse? When? Where? We don’t know. Previous evidence in Arabia were tethering stones for the African Wild Ass, around 3.500 years BCE, about the same time petroglyphs depict riders. Like the Al-Madar figurines, the headlines seem to hint at “earlier than thought” as new sites are explored around the world. Ancient stones are not the only findings that may lead to rock-solid evidence: we are now able to decipher genetical information carried by modern horses, as told to BBC online by Dr. Peter Forster, University of Cambridge:

    “The genetic evidence shows that wild horses were recruited for domestication from different areas of the world,” [..] “A single, simple origin of horse domestication can be ruled out.”
    This is surprising because other domestic animals – such as cattle, goats and sheep – show a much more restricted origin

So it seems people from different places can be proud of their ancestors taming horses! I’ll admit to my bias: I liked the research hinting that horses were first tamed near ancient Romanian lands, on the Eastern European steppes beyond the Carphatian Mountains towards Ukraine — in “The Valley of the Horses,” where prehistoric super-woman Ayla gentled a saber-tooth lion and a filly named Whinny!

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Notes:
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Image credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk and Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities
Hat tip to COTH poster PeteyPie!
Discovery at al-Magar, by Peter Harrigan, May 24, 2012
horsetalk.co.nz/2012/05/24/discovery-at-al-magar/
Peter Harrigan’s aricle originally appeared here:
www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/201203/

The Roots of Purebred Arabian Horses, Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities
www.scta.gov.sa/en/Antiquities-Museums/ArcheologicalDiscovery/Pages/GI-AlmagarSite.aspx

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