The Horse

The experiment presentation of this reading amidst so many readings based upon speculations and ideas were extremely refreshing for me.  I enjoy the debate that surrounds a topic that cannot honestly be answered with absolute conviction, but the constant back and forth can get repetitive.  I find myself convinced of one ideal or notion on the origin of domestication only to be persuaded by another equally convincing claim.  The way Anthony presented his experiment really left the decision to the reader.  Of course he has to be partially biased just out of a sense of accomplishment for his work but he did an excellent job talking about skeptics of his work and even admitted to a failure.  My favorite part of the reading was the competition between Levine and Anthony.  After all the charts and data and reasoning I put my faith in Anthony’s mouth bit experiment over Levine’s use of variability to as a marker for domestication.  The scope for the bit theory is much narrower but much more concrete in my mind.  If it weren’t for the difficulty in finding proper specimens and the preciseness of the measurements it seems to me that the mouth bit theory could alone identify the origin of horse riding.  Unfortunately as mentioned in the text, horses were likely domesticated first for their winter meat and it wasn’t until later that horse riding became the normal.  But if we were able to unveil to questions behind the use of horses for riding then perhaps from their more could be discovered about the original domestication of the horse.  The narrow scope for the bit theory does not question the validity of the experiment in my mind.  When comparing the number of horses ridden to those consumed there should be no surprise that only a few teeth out of a sample show the marks of bit use.  I don’t have much experience with horses but I know it must have taken a very forward thinking and brave person to suggest shoving a piece of bone into the mouth of a wild animal in order to gain control over it.  I am completely sold on the bit theory and the experiment parameters.  If domestication truly happened because humans found a weak male that they could control then there is no question in my mind that domestication has negative impacts on a species.  Imagine where horses could be right now if we hadn’t bred the weakest of their genome.


The fact that acquiring things came before using archaeology as a tool to solve problems from the past really surprised me.  I couldn’t help but wonder how much history was lost in the pursuit of simply acquiring stone, bronze and iron pieces for display.  So much could have been gathered from where and why these artifacts where found.  I found the idea of using the progression of materials to define periods of time very appealing.  It may be a little simple but the progression of technology can really shape an entire culture and time.  Innovation is a major part of culture.  The second something becomes desirable because of ease or luxury, there will be those who use it to gain and those who gain to use it.  This affects every aspect of a population.  I think it’s unfortunate that a reoccurring theme in history is the incorporation of innovation and war.  When the horse was domesticated the reading discusses transportation in the effort of making alliances, alliances against others.  And then of course the benefits of horses were used over others instead of helping others.  I was happy to see some undisputable evidence that Diamond’s geography theory contains some pit falls.  I do not wish to completely discredit his stress on the importance of geography in domestication and evolution, but as proven in this reading there are many more variables that contribute more than geography



Why are western archaeologists so against migration as an explanation for prehistoric culture change?  This came up several times in the reading.

4 Responses to “The Horse”
  1. Bill Libby 26 March 2013 at 1:58 am #

    First of all, if this isn’t just a glitch on my end I really like the way your blog is formatted. It reminds me of a hospital except less depressing and I don’t have to wait in line to post.

    I will attempt to answer your final question, though I believe myself misinformed as well–I think archaeologists dislike migration as an explanation because, at least to me, it seems like a bit of a cop-out. Migration can be very difficult to document because it requires you to be able to track sites across a geographical plane (Which has of course changed with plate tectonics) and in absence of a concrete explanation (IE what the archaeologists dig up) it can be very tempting to say, “Oh, well it must be because of migration” for any given change in culture and then you can’t really go much farther than that. It gives the scientist a very grey area that they can dwell in without doing a whole lot of real work. In other words, maybe they think of migration as a lazy answer that shouldn’t be pursued unless all other possibilities have been explored.

  2. Ben Midas 26 March 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    I agree with Bill, I think Western archaeologists looked at migration as something that was hard to conretely prove.

    I found the idea that humans first domesticated the weakest male horses interesting as well. Obviously a weak male is easier to control than a strong male, but it seems to me that the stronger males would have seemed more desirable because they were stronger. I suppose the ease with which early humans could capture and domesticate the weaker horses was more important than breeding the best horses.

    I’m also pretty convinced by the bit theory, but as I think more about it, the lack of many specimens seems to detract a lot from the idea. With so few specimens, I think it is hard to say anything definitive.

  3. cmurri 26 March 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    I’m not sure where to stand on the horses discussion. Now this may be silly and wishful thinking, but couldn’t we dig our way out of the ‘poor genome’ hole through more domestication? I would hope that our many years of selecting ‘positive’ traits after domesticating the weaker horses wouldn’t really do much to hurt the species genome. Although a weak genome may not really be an issue when an animal becomes domesticated.

  4. Camilla 26 March 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    I respectfully disagree with your postulation that domestication has a negative impact on a species. You need only look at modern horses to see that they aren’t struggling with bad genetic material. Their legs are straighter and stronger than those of their wild cousins, the przwalski’s horse and the zebra. Some individuals can run up to about 40 mph or jump up to 8 feet. If horses were limited by a founding stallion with “bad” genetics, these things wouldn’t be possible. The founding stallion may have been weak, but he may just have had a passive temperament. I think that the latter is likelier. Passivity is often selected against in the wild–he could have been an outcast.

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