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The Yamnaya probably did ride horses…

One of the major weak points of The Horse the Wheel and Language is that there isn’t good evidence for horsemanship during the period of Yamnaya expansion. More recently, the genetic evidence seems pretty clear that modern horses descend from Sintashta populations after 2000 BC. Nevertheless, it’s pretty weird how fast the pastoralist Yamnaya moved. I suspect that a more primitive form of horse utilization was the norm for the Yamnaya. They didn’t have cavalry, but they may have ridden ponies to get to a location or escape the scene of a raid.

A new paper looking at human skeletons does indicate such horse-riding, First bioanthropological evidence for Yamnaya horsemanship:

The origins of horseback riding remain elusive. Scientific studies show that horses were kept for their milk ~3500 to 3000 BCE, widely accepted as indicating domestication. However, this does not confirm them to be ridden. Equipment used by early riders is rarely preserved, and the reliability of equine dental and mandibular pathologies remains contested. However, horsemanship has two interacting components: the horse as mount and the human as rider. Alterations associated with riding in human skeletons therefore possibly provide the best source of information. Here, we report five Yamnaya individuals well-dated to 3021 to 2501 calibrated BCE from kurgans in Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, displaying changes in bone morphology and distinct pathologies associated with horseback riding. These are the oldest humans identified as riders so far.

2 thoughts on “The Yamnaya probably did ride horses…

  1. Even just using them as pack animals could bring advantages as to what type of gear you could bring and how far it was safe to travel from home base. But I agree that riding would occur long before something you would call cavalry.

  2. Great work (although could use control group, as they say). We should probably be thinking about looking for this evidence in other contexts.

    Take Southwest Asia; Librado 2021 establishes that the horses in Anatolia at 6269 BCE and 4482 BCE were from the (presumably local) NEO-ANA group, and then from 2075 BCE, actually the earlist sample of the DOM2 horse, the Sintashta type horse, is found in Anatolia (and thereafter all horses are DOM2). Although really this is at almost exactly the same time as the same type of horse emerges in finds in Moldova (2013 BCE) and Czech Republic (1987 BCE), and among Sintashta (~1900 BCE). This is kind of a long gap between testing!

    A paper here from 2016 ( suggests that horses may have already started being dispersed in the Near East after the time of the early Yamnaya and Steppe Maykop phenomena (~3500-3300 BCE). This is the same kind of time that David Anthony said that “mobility goes… through the roof!” in ancient dna samples ( 6:50).

    If we were to look at these sample, if they could recover them and dna, I wonder might we find that there was some early dispersal of the Yamnaya like horse ancestry, already. Did horses get traded earlier than the DOM2 horse, for riding?

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