The story of horse domestication and its relationship with humans dates back to the early days of civilization. However, there has been much debate and discussion on when humans first started riding horses. Recent excavations of human skeletons indicate that the ancient Yamnaya people were among the world’s earliest known horseback riders. The discovery, made by researchers at the University of Helsinki, sheds light on the history of horse domestication and the relationship between humans and horses.
Who were the Yamnaya People?
The Yamnaya people were a group of nomadic people who lived in the Eurasian steppes about 5,000 years ago. They are known for their distinctive culture, which included innovations in metallurgy, transportation, and language. The Yamnaya were also the first to domesticate horses, a practice that spread quickly throughout Eurasia.
The Yamnaya’s Impact on Eurasia
The Yamnaya’s migration and widespread influence over Eurasia altered the human gene pool and spread the Indo-European languages. Their travels stretched from modern-day Hungary to Mongolia, roughly 4,500 kilometers, and are thought to have taken place over only a couple of centuries. The Yamnaya changed the history of Eurasia and left behind a legacy that has had a significant impact on human civilization.
The Discovery of Horseback Riding
While assessing over 200 human skeletons excavated from countries including Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, bioanthropologist Martin Trautmann noticed that several individuals’ bones carried distinct traits that he had seen before. He immediately suspected horseback riding. Trautmann and his colleagues assessed all the skeletons for the presence of six physical signs of horseback riding that have been documented in previous research, a constellation of traits dubbed horsemanship syndrome. These signs included pelvis and femur marks that could have come from the biomechanical stress of sitting with spread legs while holding onto a horse, as well as healed vertebrae damage from injuries that could have come from falling off. The team also created a scoring system to account for the skeletal traits’ severity, preservation, and relative importance.
The researchers found that five Yamnaya male individuals were frequent horseback riders because they had four or more signs of horsemanship. Nine other Yamnaya males probably rode horses, but the researchers were less confident because the skeletons each displayed only three markers. The discovery makes the Yamnaya the earliest humans identified as likely horseback riders so far.
What does the Discovery Mean?
The discovery of evidence of horseback riding among the Yamnaya people provides new insights into the history of horse domestication and the relationship between humans and horses. The discovery also confirms the long-held suspicion that the Yamnaya rode horses considering that they had the animals and expanded rapidly across such a vast area. The Yamnaya people were very close to horses, and at some point.