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Palaeopathology and horse domestication: the case of some Iron Age horses horn the Altai Mountains, Siberia

By M.A. Levine, G. Bailey, K.E. Whitwell and L.B. Jeffcott

Abstract

We discuss the use of palaeopathological indicators in horse skeletons as potential sources I of evidence about the use of horses for riding and traction. We suggest that this type of information can provide an important and perhaps more reliable complement to other indicators of domestication such as morphological changes, kill-off patterns and bit wear, which suffer from various ambiguities of interpretation. We emphasise the importance of studying the skeletons of modern control samples of horses of known life histories as a constraint on the interpretation of palaeopathological evidence and demonstrate the viability of the technique through a comparison of free-living Exmoor ponies with Iron Age Scythian horse remains from Siberia. We demonstrate that stresses caused by riding produce characteristic lesions on the vertebrae which can be distinguished from age-related damage in free-living animals, and in addition that these stresses could have been moderated by changes of saddle design in the Medieval period. These results also throw new light on customs associated with horse burial

Publisher: Oxbow Books
Year: 2000
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:1171

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