Re: [tied] Re: Horses

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 4184
Date: 2000-10-09

----- Original Message -----
From: John Croft
Sent: Monday, October 09, 2000 3:42 AM
Subject: [tied] Re: Horses
Thank you, John,
I agree more or less, except in the identification of the "primitive caballus" with the Lascaux animal, which looks irresistibly "ferus"-like. The postglacial European steppe variety seems to have been nothing else but the tarpan, which, judging from the 17-19th century descriptions looked rather different from the horse of Lascaux. I'm sure that the division into subspecies (with your proto-barb being similar to the modern Caspian ponies) took place long before domestication, presumably already in the late Pleistocene. I wouldn't exclude the possibility that the horse was domesticated more than once, in different places.
Here is my private position on the origin of the domestic horse in more technical detail (of course I'm not a palaeontologist and I can only draw conclusions from what I've read):
The name Equus ferus is entirely appropriate for the ancestral species originally ranging from Alaska to the Atlantic (= the Lascaux horse, in accordance with standard palaeontological usage). Its fossil representatives -- the "tundra pony" type, with a number of regional variants -- had the short upright mane, cranial features and low-slung stature of Przewalski's horse. For this reason the modern Asian wild horses may be regarded as surviving members of the (paraphyletic) taxon E. ferus. Przewalski's horse should accordingly be called E. ferus przewalskii.
The natural water barrier between Central Asia and Europe split the range of E. ferus, enabling geographic speciation. Although the European tundra pony disappeared at the beginning of the Holocene (probably driven to extinction by a combination of environmental changes and human hunting), a new species of horse, E. caballus, of Late Pleistocene origin (derived from E. ferus but characterised by a different chromosome count and a number of different morphological features), thrived in the European steppes. It also managed to adapt to the forest environments of postglacial Europe and to colonise the arid grasslands and semideserts of the Middle East (from N Iran towards Arabia). I think at least the following geographic variants (subspecies?) should be distinguished:
1.    Steppe tarpan (Ukraine, S Russia, E Romania)
2.    Forest tarpan (Central and NE Europe)
3.    Western horse (NW Europe, France, Switzerland)
4.    Oriental horse (Middle East)
They all gave rise to various domestic breeds. The robust and relatively tall western horses were the first to die out in the wild, but they are thought to be among the ancestors of the European draught horses and the western ponies. The possible contribution of several little-known wild horses is difficult to determine. What may be a distinct endemic species, large and thickset, adapted to a swampy woodland habitat, is known from the early Holocene of Sweden; and one of the two known N African horses of the Late Pleistocene (a "caballine" species known as E. algericus) may have survived into postglacial times. It is difficult to tell at present when exactly those varieties died out or whether either of them ever interbred with wild or domesticated E. caballus.
John wrote:

Modern breeds of horse seem to be hybrids of two subspecies.

The Barb (producing breeds such as the Arabian, the Thoroughbred,
etc) seems to have had a south eastern origin.

The Dun (producing most of the ponies and also working horses eg
Clydesdale, Shire, Percheron etc) seems to have had a north western

That these two are cospecific suggests that they originally came from
an animal that roamed widely between the two regions.  The Lascaux
horse, E.caballus is the obvious candidate.  I would suggest that the
two subspecies, dun and barb had separated prior to domestication.

The first horse, probably of the European steppe variety could then
have been back-crossed with the Dun to have produced the species
found in north western Europe; the Arab, and related breeds equally
could have been produced by back crosses to the Barb found towards
the south east.

It has been claimed that the first horses domesticated were too small
to carry a mounted man.  They would have been cultivated initially as
a meat animal.  Their benefit as a beast of burden would have been
part of the secondary products revolution.  No doubt they would have
first been used with a travois, similar to that used later with the
North American Indians.  The first carts seem to have been little
more than travois (travoix?) with solid weels added, pulled by oxen
rather than pulled by horses.  It was the lightening of the wheels,
with the appearance of spokes and rim that gave the steppe ponies
their head, and saw the rapid sread of chariotry thereafter.  There
is no reason, I feel, to doubt that this invention occurred somewhere
on the Pontic steppe.  The small size of chariot ponies, when
compared to the Roman cavalry horses, was commented upon by Ceasar in
Gaul and in Britain.  The wheeled chariot, I feel led to the rapid
spread of Indo-Aryans to the East and South.  The Mitanni and Kassite
aristocrats, with detectable Indo-Aryan affinities probably came from
this expansion.

Crossing these horses with the Barb seems to have occurred in the
Middle East, probably during early pre-Hittite times (2,200-1,900). 
Certainly larger horses seem to have spread widely both east and west
after this period, and the horses so lovingly rendered on Egyptian
monuments show a clear admixture of Barb genes.  It is quite possible
that the Dun admixtures began at roughly the same time, as horses
penetrated the north western forests.

These crosses seem to have permitted riders to mount their steeds. 
In the absence of the stirrup this was a risky business.  At first
the preferred posture seems to have been to sit well back on the
horse's rump.  This unsafe position limited the sefulness of the
horse as a mount to messagers and postal relays (eg. Egyptian New
Kingdom reliefs show this position).  People could be easily
dismounted.  It was a little later that the more modern seating
position took over, with the mounted warrior seated forward on the
forward haunches of the horse.  This mount position seems to have
spread in the Eastern Mediterranean only after the end of the Late
Bronze Age.  Once again it seems possible that this new way of
mounting horses occurred first on the steppe and led to the rapid
spread of the Iranian language groups.

It is interesting that it has been suggested that the Greeks, not
familiar with the forward mounted position (having only been familiar
with chariot ponies), like the later Mexicans at first thought the
mounted warriors from Thrace were some kind of composite animal, half
human half horse (the cantaur).

Thanks Piotr again for an interesting post.