Precision chronology sheds new light on origins of Mongolia's nomadic horse culture
According to new research, nomadic horse culture—famously associated with Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes—can trace its roots back more than 3,000 years in the eastern Eurasian Steppes, in the territory of modern Mongolia.
|Domestic horse head burial from Mongolia’s Deer Stone-Khirigsuur complex, used in the study |
[Credit: William Taylor]
A team of researchers from several academic institutions - including the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Yale University, University of Chicago, the American Center for Mongolian Studies, and the National Museum of Mongolia - used a scientific dating technique known as radiocarbon dating to estimate the spread of domestic horse ritual at deer stones and khirigsuurs.
|'Deer stone' stela in Bayankhongor province, central Mongolia, surrounded by small stone mounds |
containing domestic horse remains [Credit: William Taylor]
By using a statistical technique known as Bayesian analysis - which combines probability with archaeological information to improve precision for groups of radiocarbon dates - the study authors were able to produce a high-precision chronology model for early domestic horse use in Mongolia. Lead author William Taylor, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, says that this model "enables us for the first time to link horse use with other important cultural developments in ancient Mongolia and eastern Eurasia, and evaluate the role of climate and environmental change in the local origins of horse riding."
|Domestic horses form the center of nomadic life in contemporary Mongolia |
[Credit: P. Enkhtuvshin]
The study has important consequences for our understanding of human responses to climate change. For example, one particularly influential hypothesis argues that horse riding and nomadic herding societies developed during the late second millennium BCE, as a response to drought and a worsening climate. Taylor and colleagues' results indicate instead that early horsemanship took place during a wetter, more productive climate period - which may have given herders more room to experiment with horse breeding and transport.
|Domestic horse head burial from Mongolia's Deer Stone-Khirigsuur complex, used in the study |
[Credit: William Taylor]
Source: Max Planck Society [April 11, 2017]