Horses were domesticated much earlier than previously thought, according to a team of researchers.
They found evidence suggesting that the animals were used by a culture in northern Kazakhstan 5,500 years ago.
Until now, the earliest evidence of horse riding was metal parts from harnesses dating from the Bronze Age.
Writing in Science, a team from Exeter University, UK, suggested that the community in Kazakhstan rode their horses 1,000 years earlier.
They also ate them and drank their milk, possibly as an alcoholic brew.
The researchers traced the origins of horse domestication to the Botai culture of Kazakhstan.
Analysis of ancient bones showed that the horses were a similar shape to domesticated horses from the Bronze Age.
Communities in Kazakhstan have been milking horses for thousands of years
Outram et al., Science 6 March 2009:
Vol. 323. no. 5919, pp. 1332 - 1335
Horse domestication revolutionized transport, communications, and warfare in prehistory, yet the identification of early domestication processes has been problematic. Here, we present three independent lines of evidence demonstrating domestication in the Eneolithic Botai Culture of Kazakhstan, dating to about 3500 B.C.E. Metrical analysis of horse metacarpals shows that Botai horses resemble Bronze Age domestic horses rather than Paleolithic wild horses from the same region. Pathological characteristics indicate that some Botai horses were bridled, perhaps ridden. Organic residue analysis, using 13C and D values of fatty acids, reveals processing of mare's milk and carcass products in ceramics, indicating a developed domestic economy encompassing secondary products.