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Ancient genomes revisit the ancestry of domestic and Przewalski’s horses

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Science  06 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6384, pp. 111-114
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao3297

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Revisiting the origins of modern horses

The domestication of horses was very important in the history of humankind. However, the ancestry of modern horses and the location and timing of their emergence remain unclear. Gaunitz et al. generated 42 ancient-horse genomes. Their source samples included the Botai archaeological site in Central Asia, considered to include the earliest domesticated horses. Unexpectedly, Botai horses were the ancestors not of modern domestic horses, but rather of modern Przewalski's horses. Thus, in contrast to current thinking on horse domestication, modern horses may have been domesticated in other, more Western, centers of origin.

Science, this issue p. 111

Abstract

The Eneolithic Botai culture of the Central Asian steppes provides the earliest archaeological evidence for horse husbandry, ~5500 years ago, but the exact nature of early horse domestication remains controversial. We generated 42 ancient-horse genomes, including 20 from Botai. Compared to 46 published ancient- and modern-horse genomes, our data indicate that Przewalski’s horses are the feral descendants of horses herded at Botai and not truly wild horses. All domestic horses dated from ~4000 years ago to present only show ~2.7% of Botai-related ancestry. This indicates that a massive genomic turnover underpins the expansion of the horse stock that gave rise to modern domesticates, which coincides with large-scale human population expansions during the Early Bronze Age.

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