New Skeletal Analysis Shows Horseback Riding As Old As 5,000 Years
PHOTOGRAPH BY Marzena Skubatz / skutravels via Getty Images

Analysis of 5,000-year-old human remains from Central Europe strongly indicates evidence of horseback riding, which better explains the central European humans’ known migration history.

Some 200 remains of bronze-aged humans, which belonged to what is called the Yamnaya people, were collected from museums across Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. They were analyzed for known markers of horseback riding, according to the Associated Press. Experts of the study say there are six clear identifiers of horseback riding which include unique wear marks on the hip sockets, thigh bone, and pelvis, the article said.

The study, originally published in Science Advances, noted that there is highly debated evidence of horseback riding dating to as old as 3500 B.C. in modern-day Kazakhstan, with perhaps slightly more formidable evidence dating to 2000 B.C. in the Third Dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia.

Of the remains analyzed, five showed signs of being horseback riders. “There is earlier evidence for harnessing and milking of horses, but this is the earliest direct evidence so far for horseback riding,” said Alan Outram, University of Exeter archaeologist and outside observer of the study.

Similar to looking at bones for evidence of horseback riding, experts have found evidence of humans consuming horse milk by analyzing dental remains.

The Yamnaya originated in what is modern-day Ukraine and western Russia, and within a few generations they migrated as far west as Hungary and as far east as Mongolia, said Volker Heyd, University of Helsinki archaeologist and co-author of the study. The findings of the study provide additional context for the relatively quick migration.

“The spread of Indo European languages is linked to their movement, and they reshaped the genetic make-up of Europe,” Heyd said.

Given the small percentage of bones that showed clear signs of horseback riding, it is unlikely that the Yamnaya engaged in combat on horseback. However, the AP article notes that it is more likely the Yamnaya used horses in more subtle ways that contextualize their migration, such as better communicating with other tribes, forming alliances, and managing cattle, their economic staple.


Molecular archaeologist Ludovic Orlando, who directs the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse in France and was not a part of the research, praised the findings. “This is about the origins of something that impacted human history like only a few other things have,” he said.

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