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Levine, Bailey, Whitwell, and Jeffcott’s ten page article on the domestication and palaeopathology of the horse begins with the simple factoid that they were the most commonly used, fastest available transportation of their time– in warfare or otherwise. From there, we lay out an issue: despite their prominence and role in human history, we still know very little about their domestication. The article sets out for answers on the subject. It introduces a few key areas of study such as the skeletal analysis, archaeological context, as well as the veterinary and biological implications of these parts of the ancient horse.
The first issue in analyzing the domestication of horses is that we can’t find a concrete point where morphological changes come about by some forced hand, outside of natural selection. There’s ambiguity in whether or not animals were slaughtered at a young age, or just hunted– as there is a distinct difference between the two that can classify domestication or not. The accepted theory of origin for the horse’s domestication is in the central Eurasian steppe, and near or around the 5th millennium BC and onwards. Dental records seem to suggest this due to wear and tear caused only by the instrument known as “the bit.”
The next idea broaches skeletal hints of domestication, and specifies the bones that paleopathologists look for in ancient horses. This skeletal discussion refers to numerous breeds for which we already have extensive skeletal knowledge of dating back hundreds of years. These historic records are useful when trying to analyze at which point the horse began it’s molding towards the breeds we see today– via domestication. The skeletal reference images try to study the burial patterns of horses, and a diagram that explains what we knew about each horse in this particular burial site is given based on its paleopathology.
Specific types of injuries were theorized to be tied to time periods in human history. For example, there are lesions that appear in medieval horses that suggest what might happen when a horse in a badly fitted saddle was required to jump. There is also wear and tear on the spinal column that would not be widespread naturally, but only after domestication and use in riding. Overall, the study of their post-decomposition anatomy provides insight into what the researchers want to differentiate as either naturally caused, or culturally caused– either one of which provides some narrowing of the window wherein which domestication most likely occurred.
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