Where does the modern domestic horse come from?

A special horse between the Caspian and Black seas carrying 2 special genes is the foundation for all modern day domestic horses

It has been decided, I believe fairly conclusively, that the modern domestic horse comes from the lower Volga-Don region which is now part of Russia. This is thanks to a study published on October 20, 2021 called ‘The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes‘. A full list of the scientists involved in the study is at the base of the page.

A special horse between the Caspian and Black seas carrying 2 special genes is the foundation for all modern day domestic horses

A special horse between the Caspian and Black seas carrying 2 special genes is the foundation for all modern day domestic horses. Photo: Pixabay.

The Volga-Don region is between the Caspian and Black seas. During the Bronze Age a horse lived there which carried two special genes. These genes gave this special horse a calmer temperament and a stronger back compared to other horses in Europe and to the east in Siberia.

The scientists have named this horse’s lineage DOM2. They have concluded that all modern domesticated breeds are descended from it. This includes the Arabian, the Shire and the tiny Shetland ponies.

This horse’s improved stress resilience, docility, weight-bearing ability and endurance have been linked to 2 genes called GSDMC and ZFPM1. These horses were suitable for riding which helped to spread the lineage across Eurasia and over a period of a few hundred years this special horse had replaced all other horse populations from the Atlantic to Mongolia. The horse was used in long-range transport and warfare.

To a layperson like me, the study looks highly impressive. It involved the genetic analysis of hundreds of ancient and prehistoric horses.

Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander the Great, would have been a horse within the DOM2 lineage. And also the steeds of the hordes of Genghis Khan. Also Napoleon’s cavalry would have been horses of this lineage.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Pablo Librado of the Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, said “These horses were kingmakers”.

They found that horses from the oldest archaeological evidence of domestication of the horse in Botai (in what is now Kazakhstan) – dated to 5,500 years ago – were not the ancestors of the modern breeds. They looked at the whole of Eurasia and analysed the genetic make-up of 273 horses that lived up to 52,000 years ago.

At that time the horses of Eurasia were made up of numerous genetically distinct horse populations. Between 2000 and 2200 BC they notice a distinct change in that a single genetic profile began to spread beyond its native region. At this time there was also a population explosion in horses. This indicated the origin of the modern domestic horse.

“This is when we took control over the reproduction of the animal and produced them in astronomic numbers”, said Professor Ludovic Orlando, senior author of the study.

You can read the study by clicking on this link if you wish. I’m thankful to The Times article on the study.

List of authors

Pablo Librado, Naveed Khan, Antoine Fages, Mariya A. Kusliy, Tomasz Suchan, Laure Tonasso-Calvière, Stéphanie Schiavinato, Duha Alioglu, Aurore Fromentier, Aude Perdereau, Jean-Marc Aury, Charleen Gaunitz, Lorelei Chauvey, Andaine Seguin-Orlando, Clio Der Sarkissian, John Southon, Beth Shapiro, Alexey A. Tishkin, Alexey A. Kovalev, Saleh Alquraishi, Ahmed H. Alfarhan, Khaled A. S. Al-Rasheid, Timo Seregély, Lutz Klassen, Rune Iversen, Olivier Bignon-Lau, Pierre Bodu, Monique Olive, Jean-Christophe Castel, Myriam Boudadi-Maligne, Nadir Alvarez, Mietje Germonpré, Magdalena Moskal-del Hoyo, Jarosław Wilczyński, Sylwia Pospuła, Anna Lasota-Kuś, Krzysztof Tunia, Marek Nowak, Eve Rannamäe, Urmas Saarma, Gennady Boeskorov, Lembi Lōugas, René Kyselý, Lubomír Peške, Adrian Bălășescu, Valentin Dumitrașcu, Roxana Dobrescu, Daniel Gerber, Viktória Kiss, Anna Szécsényi-Nagy, Balázs G. Mende, Zsolt Gallina, Krisztina Somogyi, Gabriella Kulcsár, Erika Gál, Robin Bendrey, Morten E. Allentoft, Ghenadie Sirbu, Valentin Dergachev, Henry Shephard, Noémie Tomadini, Sandrine Grouard, Aleksei Kasparov, Alexander E. Basilyan, Mikhail A. Anisimov, Pavel A. Nikolskiy, Elena Y. Pavlova, Vladimir Pitulko, Gottfried Brem, Barbara Wallner, Christoph Schwall, Marcel Keller, Keiko Kitagawa, Alexander N. Bessudnov, Alexander Bessudnov, William Taylor, Jérome Magail, Jamiyan-Ombo Gantulga, Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan, Diimaajav Erdenebaatar, Kubatbeek Tabaldiev, Enkhbayar Mijiddorj, Bazartseren Boldgiv, Turbat Tsagaan, Mélanie Pruvost, Sandra Olsen, Cheryl A. Makarewicz, Silvia Valenzuela Lamas, Silvia Albizuri Canadell, Ariadna Nieto Espinet, Ma Pilar Iborra, Jaime Lira Garrido, Esther Rodríguez González, Sebastián Celestino, Carmen Olària, Juan Luis Arsuaga, Nadiia Kotova, Alexander Pryor, Pam Crabtree, Rinat Zhumatayev, Abdesh Toleubaev, Nina L. Morgunova, Tatiana Kuznetsova, David Lordkipanize, Matilde Marzullo, Ornella Prato, Giovanna Bagnasco Gianni, Umberto Tecchiati, Benoit Clavel, Sébastien Lepetz, Hossein Davoudi, Marjan Mashkour, Natalia Ya. Berezina, Philipp W. Stockhammer, Johannes Krause, Wolfgang Haak, Arturo Morales-Muñiz, Norbert Benecke, Michael Hofreiter, Arne Ludwig, Alexander S. Graphodatsky, Joris Peters, Kirill Yu. Kiryushin, Tumur-Ochir Iderkhangai, Nikolay A. Bokovenko, Sergey K. Vasiliev, Nikolai N. Seregin, Konstantin V. Chugunov, Natalya A. Plasteeva, Gennady F. Baryshnikov, Ekaterina Petrova, Mikhail Sablin, Elina Ananyevskaya, Andrey Logvin, Irina Shevnina, Victor Logvin, Saule Kalieva, Valeriy Loman, Igor Kukushkin, Ilya Merz, Victor Merz, Sergazy Sakenov, Victor Varfolomeyev, Emma Usmanova, Viktor Zaibert, Benjamin Arbuckle, Andrey B. Belinskiy, Alexej Kalmykov, Sabine Reinhold, Svend Hansen, Aleksandr I. Yudin, Alekandr A. Vybornov, Andrey Epimakhov, Natalia S. Berezina, Natalia Roslyakova, Pavel A. Kosintsev, Pavel F. Kuznetsov, David Anthony, Guus J. Kroonen, Kristian Kristiansen, Patrick Wincker, Alan Outram & Ludovic Orlando

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