Coat Color Variation at the Beginning of Horse Domestication

Science 24 April 2009:
Vol. 324. no. 5926, p. 485
DOI: 10.1126/science.1172750

Coat Color Variation at the Beginning of Horse Domestication
Arne Ludwig,1,*,{dagger} Melanie Pruvost,1,2,* Monika Reissmann,3,*
Norbert Benecke,2 Gudrun A. Brockmann,3 Pedro Castaños,4 Michael
Cieslak,1 Sebastian Lippold,5 Laura Llorente,6 Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas,7
Montgomery Slatkin,7 Michael Hofreiter5,*,{dagger}

The transformation of wild animals into domestic ones available for
human nutrition was a key prerequisite for modern human societies.
However, no other domestic species has had such a substantial impact
on the warfare, transportation, and communication capabilities of
human societies as the horse. Here, we show that the analysis of
ancient DNA targeting nuclear genes responsible for coat coloration
allows us to shed light on the timing and place of horse
domestication. We conclude that it is unlikely that horse
domestication substantially predates the occurrence of coat color
variation, which was found to begin around the third millennium before
the common era.

1 Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, 10252 Berlin,
2 German Archaeological Institute, Im Dol 4-6, 14165 Berlin, Germany.
3 Institute for Animal Sciences, Humboldt University Berlin, 10115
Berlin, Germany.
4 Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi, San Sebastián, Spain.
5 Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz
6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.
6 Laboratory of Archaeozoology, Universidad Autonoma Madrid, 28049
Madrid, Spain.
7 Department of Integrative Biology, University of California,
Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.

* These authors contributed equally to this work.

{dagger} To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:
ludwig@xxxxxxxxxxxxx (A.L.); hofreiter@xxxxxxxxxx (M.H.)

Mystery Of Horse Domestication Solved?

ScienceDaily (Apr. 24, 2009) — Wild horses were domesticated in the
Ponto-Caspian steppe region (today Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine,
Romania) in the 3rd millennium B.C. Despite the pivotal role horses
have played in the history of human societies, the process of their
domestication is not well understood.

In a new study published in the scientific journal Science, an
analysis by German researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and
Wildlife Research, Berlin, the German Archaeological Institute, the
Humboldt University Berlin, the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary
Anthropology, Leipzig, in cooperation with American and Spanish
scientists, has unravelled the mystery about the domestication of the

Based on ancient DNA spanning the time between the Late Pleistocene
and the Middle Ages, targeting nuclear genes responsible for coat
colorations allows to shed light on the timing and place of horse
domestication. Furthermore the study demonstrates how rapid the number
of colorations increased as one result of the domestication. As well,
it shows very clearly that the huge variability of coloration in
domestic horses which can be observed today is a result of selective
breeding by ancient farmers.

Our modern human societies were founded on the Neolithic revolution,
which was the transformation of wild plants and animals into domestic
ones available for human nutrition. Within all domestic animals, no
other species has had such a significant impact on the warfare,
transportation and communication capabilities of human societies as
the horse.

For many millennia, horses were linked to human history changing
societies on a continent-wide scale, be it with Alexander the Great’s
or Genghis Khan’s armies invading most of Asia and Eastern Europe or
Francis Pizarro destroying the Inca Empire with about 30 mounted
warriors. The horse was a costly and prestigious animal in all times,
featured in gifts from one sovereign to another as a nobleman’s mark.

Journal reference:

1. Arne Ludwig, Melanie Pruvost, Monika Reissmann, Norbert Benecke,
Gudrun A. Brockmann, Pedro Castaños, Michael Cieslak, Sebastian
Lippold, Laura Llorente, Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, Montgomery Slatkin,
and Michael Hofreiter. Coat Color Variation at the Beginning of Horse
Domestication. Science, 2009; 324 (5926): 485 DOI: 10.1126/science.

Adapted from materials provided by Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
(FVB), via AlphaGalileo.
Email or share this story:
Need to cite this story in your essay, paper, or report? Use one of
the following formats:

Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB) (2009, April 24). Mystery Of Horse
Domestication Solved?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from­; /releases/2009/04/090423142541.htm


Relevant Pages

  • 77 mares
    ... Papers in Honour of Véra Eisenmann. ... for horse domestication as early as 4500 ... available horse mtDNA sequence database, ...
  • Re: 77 mares
    ... wiki article no citations given for the 4800-4400 BCdating. ... There is no direct evidence ... With the Horse" ... definitive date for domestication, most experts now feel ...
  • Re: utterly silenced for finding crib-bit on horses in the paleolithic
    ... the evidence for the presumed domestication of the ... horse during that period. ... Journey through the Ice Age by Paul G. Bahn ... At one point Paul Bahn was arguing I believe for evidence of crib biting ...