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Department of Zoology


Domestic horses likely arose from the western Eurasian steppe-the area of present day Ukraine and West Kazakhstan-and repeatedly interbred with wild horses as the herds spread, a study suggests.


Researchers have long debated the early history of horse domestication: Archeological evidence suggests that horses were domesticated in the western Eurasian steppe, whereas genetic evidence from modern mares points to multiple domestication events across a wide geographic area. Vera Warmuth from the department and colleagues modeled the origin and spread of horse domestication using genetic data from more than 300 horses across northern Eurasia.

The authors reconstruct the demographic history of Equus ferus, the extinct wild progenitor of domestic horses, and suggest that E. ferus expanded out of eastern Eurasia approximately 160,000 years ago. Further analysis suggested to the authors that horse domestication originated in the western Eurasian steppe approximately 6,000 years ago, and that domesticated herds were repeatedly restocked with wild horses as they spread across Eurasia.

The findings confirm horse domestication's origins in western Eurasia, and provide evidence for widespread incorporation of wild horses into domestic herds, thereby uniting disparate evidence from previous studies and resolving conflicting interpretations, according to the authors.