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Eneolithic horse exploitation in the Eurasian steppes: diet, ritual and riding.

The symbolism of the horse in Eneolithic society is explored in this paper. Recent excavations in the Eurasian steppes demonstrate the importance of horses before domestication and horse riding became common; showing they were eaten, exploited and revered.

Key-words: Eurasia, Eneolithic, steppe, horse, bit, [sup.14]C dating, Dereivka

In 1964 the remains of a horse and two dogs were discovered at the edge of an Eneolithic settlement excavated by D. Telegin near Dereivka, Ukraine (Telegin 1973; 1986). The horse, a 7-8-year-old stallion, was represented by its skull, mandible and left foreleg. Similar `head-and-hoof' deposits of later periods were created when a horse hide was buried with the head and hooves attached, often after a ritual horse feast (Piggott 1962; Bokonyi 1980; Mallory 1981; Jones & Pennick 1995: 139-40). The bones of the two dogs also seemed to be from pelts with the head attached. In 1990 the authors detected wear made by a bit on the lower second premolars ([P.sub.2]) of the horse. The association of the horse with domestic dogs and the apparent ritual character of the deposit supported the bit-wear evidence: this horse was part of the world of humans, Hodder's domus, rather than a creature of the wild. Its stratigraphic location at the bottom of the Eneolithic settlement deposit, one metre beneath the modern ground surface, made its antiquity seem secure. The absolute age assigned to Eneolithic Dereivka is based on 10 radiocarbon dates (TABLE 1: 1-10), eight of which average between 4300-3900 BC.(1) The Dereivka stallion with bit wear was announced as the earliest direct evidence for the use of the horse as a transport animal (Anthony & Brown 1991; Anthony et al. 1991).

TABLE 1. Radiocarbon dates from the Eneolithic and Bronze Age of the Eurasian steppes.
lab date BP context

Dereivka, Late Eneolithic, Sredni Stog culture
1 Ki-2195 6240 [+ or -] 100 settlement, shell
2 UCLA-1466a 5515 [+ or -] 90 settlement, bone
3 Ki-2193 5400 [+ or -] 100 settlement, shell
4 OxA-5030 5380 [+ or -] 90 cemetery, grave 2
5 KI-6966 5370 [+ or -] 70 settlement, bone
6 Ki-6960 5330 [+ or -] 60 settlement, bone
7 KI-6964 5260 [+ or -] 75 settlement, bone
8 Ki-2197 5230 [+ or -] 95 settlement, bone
9 Ki-6965 5210 [+ or -] 70 settlement, bone
10 UCLA-1671a 4900 [+ or -] 100 settlement, bone
11 Ki 5488 4330 [+ or -] 120 cult horse skull
12 Ki-6962 2490 [+ or -] 95 cult horse skull
13 OxA-7185 2295 [+ or -] 60 cult horse tooth
14 OxA-6577 1995 [+ or -] 60 bone near cult horse

Osipovka, Early Eneolithic, Dnieper-Donets (Mariupol) culture
15 Ki-517 6075 [+ or -] 125 cemetery, bone
16 Ki-519 5940 [+ or -] 420 cemetery, bone

Nikol'skoe, Early Eneolithic, Dnieper-Donets (Mariupol) culture
17 Ki-523 5640 [+ or -] 400 cemetery, bone

Yasinovatka, Early Eneolithic, Dnieper-Donets (Mariupol) culture
18 Ki-1171 5650 [+ or -] 700 cemetery, bone

Rakushechni Yar, Late Neolithic, Lower Don group
19 Bln-704 6070 [+ or -] 100 level 8, charcoal
20 Ki-955 5790 [+ or -] 100 level 5, shell

Khvalynsk cemetery, Early Eneolithic, Khvalynsk culture
21 AA12571 6200 [+ or -] 85 cemetery II, grave 30
22 AA-12572 5985 [+ or -] 85 cemetery II, grave 18
23 OxA-4314 6015 [+ or -] 85 cemetery II, grave 18
24 OxA-4313 5920 [+ or -] 80 cemetery II, grave 34
25 OxA-4312 5830 [+ or -] 80 cemetery II, grave 24
26 OxA-4311 5790 [+ or -] 80 cemetery II, grave 10
27 UPI-119 5903 [+ or -] 72 cemetery I, grave 4
28 UPI-120 5808 [+ or -] 79 cemetery I, grave 26
29 UPI-132 6085 [+ or -] 193 cemetery I, grave 13

Varfolomievka settlement, Late Neolithic, North Caspian
30 Lu-2642 6400 [+ or -] 230 level 2B, ?
31 Lu-2620 6090 [+ or -] 160 level 2B, ?

Kozhai 1 settlement, Eneolithic, Tersek culture, North Kazakhstan
32 IGAN-656 4600 [+ or -] 320 ?
33 IGAN-748 4570 [+ or -] 40 ?

Kumkeshu settlement, Eneolithic, Tersek culture, North Kazakhstan
34 IGAN-749 4570 [+ or -] 270 ?

Botai settlement, Eneolithic, Botai culture, North Kazakhstan
35 OxA-4315 4630 [+ or -] 75 lower level, bone
36 OxA-4316 4620 [+ or -] 80 pit 5, bone
37 OxA-4317 4630 [+ or -] 80 house 44, pit 10, bone
38 IGAS-4234 4900 [+ or -] 80 house 50, bone
39 IGAS-4235 4160 [+ or -] 40 house 48, ?
40 IGAS-4236 4540 [+ or -] 60 house 55, ?
41 IGAS-4237 4430 [+ or -] 60 pit 9, between h. 49/56

Sergeivka, Terminal Botai/Early Bronze Age, North Kazakhstan
42 OxA-4439 4160 [+ or -] 80 settlement, bone

Utyevka VI, kurgan 6, grave 4, Middle Bronze Age, Potapovka group
43 OxA-4306 3510 [+ or -] 80 K6(4), bone
44 AA-12568 3760 [+ or -] 100 K6(4), bone

 calibrated date BC
lab (OxCal)

Dereivka, Late Eneolithic, Sredni Stog culture
1 Ki-2195 5270-5058(*)
2 UCLA-1466a 4470-4240
3 Ki-2193 4360-4040
4 OxA-5030 4350-4040
5 KI-6966 4340-4040
6 Ki-6960 4250-4040
7 KI-6964 4230-3990
8 Ki-2197 4230-3970
9 Ki-6965 4230-3960
10 UCLA-1671a 3900-3530
11 Ki 5488 3300-2700
12 Ki-6962 790-520
13 OxA-7185 410-200
14 OxA-6577 90 BC-AD 70

Osipovka, Early Eneolithic, Dnieper-Donets (Mariupol) culture
15 Ki-517 5210-4900
16 Ki-519 5280-4350(*)

Nikol'skoe, Early Eneolithic, Dnieper-Donets (Mariupol) culture
17 Ki-523 4950-4000

Yasinovatka, Early Eneolithic, Dnieper-Donets (Mariupol) culture
18 Ki-1171 5300-3900

Rakushechni Yar, Late Neolithic, Lower Don group
19 Bln-704 5210-4900
20 Ki-955 4790-4530

Khvalynsk cemetery, Early Eneolithic, Khvalynsk culture
21 AA12571 5250-5050(*)
22 AA-12572 5040-4780
23 OxA-4314 5060-4790
24 OxA-4313 4940-4720
25 OxA-4312 4840-4580
26 OxA-4311 4780-4570
27 UPI-119 4900-4720
28 UPI-120 4790-4580
29 UPI-132 5242-4780(*)

Varfolomievka settlement, Late Neolithic, North Caspian
30 Lu-2642 5570-5070(*)
31 Lu-2620 5220-4840(*)

Kozhai 1 settlement, Eneolithic, Tersek culture, North Kazakhstan
32 IGAN-656 3700-2900
33 IGAN-748 3380-3130

Kumkeshu settlement, Eneolithic, Tersek culture, North Kazakhstan
34 IGAN-749 3650-2900

Botai settlement, Eneolithic, Botai culture, North Kazakhstan
35 OxA-4315 3600-3190
36 OxA-4316 3600-3146
37 OxA-4317 3610-3140
38 IGAS-4234 3790-3540
39 IGAS-4235 2880-2620
40 IGAS-4236 3360-3100
41 IGAS-4237 3310-2920

Sergeivka, Terminal Botai/Early Bronze Age, North Kazakhstan
42 OxA-4439 2830-2610

Utyevka VI, kurgan 6, grave 4, Middle Bronze Age, Potapovka group
43 OxA-4306 1920-1740(*)
44 AA-12568 2310-2030(*)

* starred dates were calibrated using CALIB, not OxCal

New radiocarbon dates from Oxford and Kiev indicate that the Dereivka `cult stallion' should be withdrawn from discussions of Eneolithic horse-keeping. The Dereivka horse died between about 700 and 200 BC. In Ukraine, this would suggest a Scythian-period Iron Age deposit. Apparently the remains of the horse, and probably the dogs as well, were placed in a pit dug into the Eneolithic site during the Iron Age.

The first direct date on a piece of bone from the bitted horse was reported by Telegin in a conference paper in 1995 (TABLE 1: 11). It was about 500-1000 years younger than expected, compared with other radiocarbon dates from the Dereivka settlement. This date remains a puzzling anomaly. A year later another bone fragment from the same level and excavation unit as the bitted horse, but not from the bitted horse itself, produced an AMS date about 4000 years younger than expected (TABLE 1: 14). In 1997 Telegin and Anthony forwarded one of the two bit-worn [P.sub.2]s to Oxford for AMS dating. The tooth was about 3500-4000 years younger than expected (TABLE 1: 13). Telegin had by then obtained a date on one more piece of bone from the stallion's skull. It too was about 3500 years too young (TABLE 1: 12). The radiocarbon results are too scattered firmly to support a specific date, but at this point the general age of the bitted horse was clear.

The Dereivka bitted horse was important because it was discovered at a well-dated site that has been central in discussions of horse domestication since 1967 (Bibikova 1967; 1969; Nobis 1971; Bokonyi 1974: 238; Levine 1990; Anthony & Brown 1991; Azzaroli 1998). Bit wear seemed to provide the `smoking gun' that was missing from earlier arguments about the origins of horseback riding. But Dereivka is not the only Eneolithic site that contains horse teeth with bit wear. Bit wear has been discovered also at Botai, an Eneolithic site in Kazakhstan dated about 3500-3000 BC, and new evidence continues to support the hypothesis that horses were domesticated and ridden by at least 3500-3000 BC in the Eurasian steppes.

Eneolithic horse exploitation in the western steppes

Food-producing economies appeared in the western steppes, west of the Ural Mountains, 1000 years before Dereivka. The bones of domesticated cattle and sheep/goats have been found in a series of Late Neolithic and Early Eneolithic sites dated between about 5200 and 4500 BC (FIGURE 1, TABLE 1: 15-31). Apart from Telegin's work on the Dnieper, most of these sites are little known in the Western archaeological literature (but see Mallory 1989: 195-210 and Shnirelman 1992). Nevertheless, they represent the beginnings of widespread cattle and sheep/goat herding in the Eurasian steppes. Horses, whether domesticated or wild, were an important part of this subsistence system.


The principal Late Neolithic/Early Eneolithic regional groups are (FIGURE 1, TABLE 1: 15-31): the Dnieper-Donets culture of Mariupol type in the steppe river valleys between the Dnieper and Donets rivers (Telegin 1968; 1987; 1991; Telegin & Potekhina 1987); the Orlovka group on the middle Don/lower Volga (Mamontov 1974; Yudin 1988; 1998); the Rakushechni Yar group on the lower Don (Belanovskaya & Telegin 1996; Kiashko 1987; 1994); the Varfolomievka group in the Volga-Ural steppes (Yudin 1988; 1998); and the Khvalynsk culture on the lower Volga with its related cousins such as S'ezzhye in the Samara region (Vasiliev 1981; Vasiliev & Matveeva 1979; Agapov et al. 1990). Seed impressions of barley (Telegin 1968: 207), wheat (T. monococcum and T. dicoccum) and millet (Panicum sativum) have been found in ceramic pots at some Dnieper-Donets settlements (Yanushevich 1989), but studies of dental caries in some Dnieper-Donets cemeteries suggest that the people examined ate a low-carbohydrate diet (Lillie 1996), so the contribution of cultivated cereals to the Early Eneolithic diet remains unclear.

Horse, sheep/goat and cattle are present in Early Eneolithic/Late Neolithic contexts in all of the cited groups. Horse bones occur regularly, in high percentages. At Ivanovskaya on the upper Samara River, a Neolithic settlement, horse, sheep/goat and dog were identified as domesticates, with horse bones constituting 45 [multiplied by] 5% of the 1382 bones identified (Morgunova 1988). At Late Neolithic Varfolomievka in the steppes between the Volga and Ural Rivers, the certain domesticates were identified as sheep/ goal and dog, but `almost half' the bones were of horses, some of which were said to fit in the domestic category, and some wild (Yudin 1988: 164). The Khvalynsk-culture Eneolithic settlement of Vilovatoe on the Samara River yielded 552 identifiable bones, of which 28.3% were horse, 19.4% were sheep/goat and 6.3% were cattle, in addition to beaver (31.8%) and red deer (12.9%)(Petrenko 1984: 149). The Early Eneolithic Dnieper-Donets (or Mariupol) culture has four settlements with reported fauna (Telegin 1968; English summaries in Mallory 1987 and Anthony 1991). Cattle (average 25.7% of bones), sheep/goat (average 20.2%) and horses (average 12.1%) were the dominant food animals.

Horses were a significant element in the subsistence economy of the western steppes long before the Sredni Stog period. Neolithic/Early Eneolithic sites in the Volga-Caspian steppes, the eastern part of this region, contained up to 50% horse bones, accompanied by a small but persistent percentage of sheep/goat and occasional cattle. In the Dnieper-Azov steppes (Mariupol type), in the west, there were fewer horse bones and more cattle, but even here horses supplied, on average, more than 20% of the meat diet (Anthony 1991: table 1).

The domestication of any animal must be seen as a process, not an event. A long history of human dietary dependence on horses can be documented in the western steppes beginning before 5000 BC, in a cultural context that included cattle and caprine herding. Although horses were present at the same time in small populations in western and central Europe (Benecke 1994: 64-75), they were not important there in human diets. The preconditions for domestication existed only in the steppes.

Eneolithic horse symbolism in the western steppes

Horses played an equally important role in Eneolithic belief systems in the western steppes. The symbolic role of the horse is indicated most clearly at the Khvalynsk cemetery. Khvalynsk, located between Saratov and Samara on the middle Volga, is the type site for the Early Eneolithic Khvalynsk culture. The cemetery contained more than 200 human burials. The radiocarbon dates average between 5000-4500 BC (TABLE 1: 21-29). The first excavations in 1977-79 (cemetery I) disclosed 158 graves; these have been published (Agapov et al. 1990) (FIGURE 2). The second excavation campaign in 1980-85 (cemetery II) documented 43 additional graves, which are unpublished. The two adjacent excavations probably represent one cemetery. Men, women and children were buried in individual graves and in superimposed grave clusters (family groups?). Some individuals were buried with round-bottomed pots, polished stone maces, antler hammers, belts of shell beads and beaver incisors, boars' tusk breast ornaments, and ornamental beads, rings and bracelets made of copper (FIGURE 3). Trace elements in some of the copper objects are characteristic of Balkan/Carpathian sources, and the simple forging and welding methods resemble those of the Carpathian early Triploye culture, though the objects are cruder and probably were made locally (Ryndina 1998: 151-9). The copper, the earliest to appear on the Volga, was presumably traded eastward through the same social networks (early Tripolye A/Mariupol) that had facilitated the diffusion of domesticated sheep and cereals.


Twelve ritual deposits were discovered above the human graves at Khvalynsk I (FIGURE 2) (Petrenko 1984: 48-9; Agapov et al. 1990: 8-9). Eleven contained animal bones, which together totaled an MNI of 4 horses, 9 cattle and 27 sheep/goat. Some of the deposits contained the head and lower-limb bones of caprines or cattle, apparently from `head-and-hoof' offerings. One of the graves, no. 115, contained 35 sheep astragalus bones, representing at least 22 individuals (Petrenko 1984: 48).

Horse bones were included in three ritual deposits. Ritual deposit no. 2 contained three horse first phalanges (1MNI) and three shell beads. Ritual deposit no. 3 contained five first phalanges from at least two horses, with unspecified cattle bones. Ritual deposit no. 4 was in a large, ochre-stained pit over the graves (nos. 90 & 91) of an adult male and an adolescent (FIGURE 3). It contained horse phalanges and a tibia (1MNI), fragments of the skull and lower-leg bones of an adult sheep (1MNI) and unspecified bones of adult cattle (1MNI) (Agapov et al. 1990: 8). Horse bones were grouped with cattle and sheep bones in two of these three deposits. Except for one boar's tusk ornament, no obviously wild animal remains were included in the ritual deposits at Khvalynsk.

In the Samara River valley, north of Khvalynsk, an Early Eneolithic cemetery of nine graves was found at S'yezzhe (Vasiliev & Matveeva 1979). Above the graves in soil deeply stained with red ochre were the sherds of two broken pottery vessels of the S'yezzhe type (thought to be somewhat older than Khvalynsk), shell beads, a bone harpoon and the skulls and lower extremity bones (astragali and phalanges) of two horses. Nearby, but outside the area of ochre-stained soil, were two figurines of horses carved on flat pieces of bone (FIGURE 4). A similar bone plaque shaped like two opposed cattle heads was found in one of the graves, apparently used as an ornament.


Other Late Neolithic/Eneolithic sites in the western steppes contain similar deposits. Carved bone horse figurines (FIGURE 4) were recovered from a Khvalynsk-culture cemetery at Lipovyi Ovrag and from the Eneolithic settlement at Varfolomievka (Yudin 1998). Near the Varfolomievka settlement was a small cemetery of four human graves, where a horse skull and `other bones' formed part of a ritual deposit (Yudin 1998: 101). At the Mariupol-culture cemetery of Nikol'skoe on the Dnieper, fragments of horse bones and teeth were found in an ochrestained graveside surface deposit like those at S'ezzhye and Varfolomievka (Telegin 1987: 130).

The graveside ritual deposits and carved horse images at these sites confirm the evidence of the Khvalynsk cemetery. Horses were strongly associated with the world of humans and had become an important symbol in mortuary rituals by about 5000 BC. Cattle, sheep/goats and horses supplied most of the meat in the diet. At the Khvalynsk cemetery, horses were grouped with domesticated cattle and sheep in deposits that excluded obviously wild animals. In terms of symbolic representation, horses were unlike wild animals and like domesticated ones.

The ritual role of horses in the Eneolithic suggests that we should be cautious about interpreting horse bones in purely economic terms. Levine's (1990; 1999a) age-and-sex analysis of the slaughtered horses at Dereivka established that most of the sexable mandibles were from stallions in their prime, about 7-8 years old. This slaughter profile, inconsistent with most hunting patterns and most herd management patterns, suggested to Levine that the Dereivka horses had been killed by hunters who stalked wild horse bands and killed stallions when they advanced to protect their harems -- a difficult and inefficient way to hunt horses (stallions usually run away as soon as their harem escapes,) Another explanation might be more plausible. Horse, cattle and sheep heads were used in rituals in the western steppes beginning about 5000 BC. If mature stallions were preferred for ritual use in the Eneolithic, as they were in later steppe prehistory (Mallory 1981), their head elements, including teeth, might be found in high percentages in places where rituals occurred. The horse metapodials (lower limb) from Dereivka support the possibility that horses might have been manipulated for symbolic reasons. The metapodials that were split and used for food are divided about equally between right and left side elements (Levine 1999b); but the whole metatarsals, which presumably were not eaten, are almost exclusively (17 of 18) from the left side (Bibikova 1969: 63). Reserved from normal dietary usage, these bones suggest symbolic selection rather than random butchering.

Bit wear with organic bits

We have studied modern [P.sub.2] s from 52 domestic and 20 feral horses in order to understand how bitting affects horse teeth. The earliest bits probably were made of organic materials, unlike the bits used on our modern specimens. To define the effects of organic bits on horse [P.sub.2] s, we conducted a riding experiment using organic bits on four previously unbitted horses. A full report is published elsewhere (Brown & Anthony 1998). Here we need only review three conclusions in order to support our identification of bit wear at the Eneolithic site of Botai in Kazakhstan.

First, bit wear in the form of a significant bevel on the front or mesial corner of the [P.sub.2] is a common pathology among bitted horses. Of the horses in our modern study group that were ridden frequently with a metal bit, 92% had bit wear on at least one side of the mouth. Significant mesial bevels have been described on ancient Egyptian (Clutton-Brock 1974), Avar (Bokonyi 1972) and Etruscan (Azzaroli 1980) horses, and we have studied this kind of wear on the [P.sub.2] s of equids from varied contexts: Avar, Roman, Greek, Scythian, Late Bronze Age (Russia), Middle Bronze Age (Russia), Early Bronze Age (Serbia) and Iranian Bronze Age (Malyan, Kaftari phase).

Second, it is now clear that an organic bit can cause bit wear. In our experiment four horses were ridden for 150 hours each with bits made of hemp rope, horsehair rope, leather or bone. All four bits showed wear from being chewed, and all four horses showed increases in the beveling of the mesial corner of the [P.sub.2] (FIGURES 5 & 6). The greatest increases occurred with the hemp rope and bone bits. After 150 hours of riding, these horses had bevels of 2.0-2.5 mm, about two standard deviations above the mean bevel measurement (0.78, SD 0.66) for 24 never-bitted horses.


Finally, among mature horses, three years or older, mesial bevels of 3.0 mm or more (the threshold we have set for archaeological studies) are common only in bitted populations. Levine (1999: 33) has noted that a large bevel might be produced naturally by pathological malocclusion, so a single beveled [P.sub.2] can never be proof of bitting. But we have not yet encountered a mesial bevel of 3.0 mm among mature never-bitted horses. Such pathologies must be unusual in the wild. The largest mesial bevel measurement that we recorded among 24 never-bitted horses was 2.0 mm, the mean 0.78 mm and the median 0.50 mm. Among 47 horses bitted with metal bits, including some bitted only infrequently, the largest mesial bevel was 10 mm, the mean 3.11 mm and the median 2.5 mm (Brown & Anthony 1998).

Bit wear at Botai

The Botai culture developed after 3500 BC in the northern steppes of Kazakhstan, east of the Ishim River (Zaibert 1993; Levine & Kislenko 1997; Brown & Anthony 1998; Levine 1999; Olsen 1999). Most of the radiocarbon dates from Botai-culture sites and related Tersek-culture sites, west of the Ishim, average between 3500 and 3000 BC.

The faunal collection from Botai made available to us in 1992 included 19 undamaged [P.sub.2] s certainly from horses more than 3 years old, mature enough to evaluate for bit wear. Five of these teeth (3 MNI), or 26% of the mature measurable [P.sub.2] s from Botai, had significant bevel measurements (FIGURE 6). Two had bevels of 3 mm, one 3.5 mm, one 4 mm and one 6 mm. Mesial bevel measurements of 3.0 mm or more are common only among bitted horses. We are reasonably certain that some horses at Botai were bitted and ridden for hundreds of hours.


At Botai, horses account for 99.9% of the 300,000 identified animal bones (Akhinzhalov et al. 1992: 40-53). Horses were an important dietary species in Tersek sites as well: at Kozhai 1 horses accounted for 66.1% of 70,000 identified animal bones, with saiga following at 21.8%, onager at 9.4% and bison (perhaps also some cattle?) at 2.1% (Logvin et al. 1989; Logvin 1992). The Botai--Tersek people had few or no domesticated animals other than horses. They relied on horses for most of their meat diet, to a degree unparalleled in Eurasia during the Holocene. A partial list of the other species represented in the Botai-culture settlement bone middens (primarily by teeth and phalanges) includes a very large bovid, probably bison, perhaps aurochs; elk; red deer; roe deer; boar; bear; beaver; saiga antelope; and gazelle (Akhinzhalov et al. 1992: 52; Olsen pers. comm.). Horses, not the easiest prey for people on foot, were overwhelmingly preferred over these other species.

Botai horses were big enough to ride comfortably, contrary to the misconception that early steppe horses were the size of donkeys (Renfrew 1996: 83--4). Seventy percent of the horses At Boat stood 136--144 cm at the withers, or about 13--14 hands (Akhinzhalov et al. 1992: 51). At Dereivka, 75% of the horses stood between 133--137 cm (Bibikova 1970: 124). Both were larger than the average horses ridden by the Roman cavalry, commonly 110--130 cm; and about the same stature as those of the American Plains Indians, about 130--140 cm (Hyland 1990: 16--26; Ewers 1955: 33).

Bit wear at other steppe sites

Not far from Botai is the Terminal Botai/Bronze Age site of Sergeivka (Kislenko & Tatarintseva 1990), dated by radiocarbon to about 2600--2800 BC (not 2200 BC, as reported in Levine & Kislenko 1997: 300). The animal bones (635 NISP) included sheep (253), horse (129), cattle (16), short-horned bison and wolf (Akhinzhalov et al. 1992: 55). Among 10 measurable horse [P.sub.2] s from Sergeivka we found significant bevel measurements on three right [P.sub.2] s. The three Sergeivka teeth with bit wear represent about 30% of the examined [P.sub.2] s, much like the percentage at Botai. Significant bevel measurements (6.0 and 5.0 mm) also appeared on both [P.sub.2] s of a stallion buried in Kurgan 6, grave 4 at Utyevka VI, a Middle Bronze Age Potapovka cemetery near Samara, Russia (Vasiliev et al. 1995); the grave also contained elaborate cheekpieces and is dated by radiocarbon to about 2000 BC (TABLE 1: 43, 44). Finally, bit wear (4 mm bevel) appears on one of four measurable horse [P.sub.2] s we examined from Kulevchi, an Alakul--Petrovka (Andronovo) settlement near Chelyabinsk (Vinogradov 1995), probably occupied about 1800-1600 BC. An actual chariot burial has been dated at nearby Krivoe Ozero to about 1900--2000 SC (Anthony & Vinogradov 1995). Bit wear at Utyevka VI and Kulevchi might be linked to the early use of chariots.


It has been said that the evidence for horse domestication in the steppe Eneolithic amounts to no more than a numerical increase in horse bones during the Sredni Stog period (Uerpmann 1995: 20). This is not true. Horses, with cattle and sheep, were a regular and significant part of the diet in the steppes west of the Ural Mountains beginning before 5000 BC and continuing through the Eneolithic. Horses also were important in ritual by 5000 BC. Horse heads and/ or extremities and carved bone figurines of horses were deposited in ochre-stained pits above human graves. Symbolically and economically, horses were like cattle and sheep and unlike wild animals. By 3500-3000 BC, horses were being bitted and ridden, probably to hunt wild horses, at Botai, east of the Urals.

The importance of horseback riding is often discussed from a military perspective only. The economic role of riding was at least as important in the steppes. Riding increased the efficiency, and therefore the potential scale, of grassland herding. Steppe ethnographic accounts suggest that a single herder with a good dog could manage about 150--200 sheep on foot.(2) On horseback, he could manage 500 (Khazanov 1994:32). With a horse and a wagon pulled by oxen, he could carry enough tents and supplies so that he and his family could live with the larger herd for months at a time, even in bad weather. The wagon's ability to move the herder's home to distant summer pastures multiplied the potential scale of grassland herding a second time, making even larger herds possible.

That combination -- grazing stock, horses and wagons -- came together about 3500-3000 BC with the Yamnaya culture. It was a combination that forever changed the human ecology of the Eurasian steppes. The spread of Yamnaya traditions coincided with the disappearance of settlements across the western steppes and the adoption of a much more mobile form of pastoral or semi-pastoral economy. Horseback riding is documented by bit wear at Botai, east of the Ural Mountains, at about the same time. It is difficult to imagine that it developed first among the hunters of northern Kazakhstan, when horses, cattle and sheep had been central in the economy of the western steppes 1500 years before Botai. It will not be easy to find Yamnaya bit wear in the absence of large settlement faunal samples, but by 3500 Be, people in the steppes were riding.

(1) All BC dates in this paper have been calibrated using the OxCal or Calib programs. All BP dates are uncalibrated. See Timofeev & Zaitseva 1997 for an expanded list.

(2) A `good dog' means a sheepdog, bred as a herder, not just a guard dog. It is not at all clear when true herding dogs arose. They were known in Roman times (Clutton-Brock 1995), but it is difficult to say how much earlier. If the herding dog was a recent breed, the horse would have been even more crucial for large-scale herding in the Eneolithic.

Acknowledgements. We thank Dimitri Telegin and the spirit of Natalya Belan in Kiev; Igor Vasiliev, Pavel Kuznetsov, Oleg Mochalov and Aleksandr Khokhlov in Samara; Victor Zaibert and A. Kislenko in Petropavlovsk; and Nikolai Vinogradov in Chelyabinsk, for more help than we can possibly describe; Sandra Olsen, Sebastian Payne, Nerissa Russell, Bernard Wailes, Mary Littauer and Peter Bogucki for advice and comments; Steve Mackenzie at the Horse Training and Behavior Program, SUNY/Cobleskill, for overseeing the riding experiment; the Large Mammal facilities at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania for modern specimens; the Bureau of Land Management, Winnemucca (NV), and Ron Keiper for feral specimens; and Marsha Levine and the editors of ANTIQUITY for cogent comments that greatly improved our paper. All errors are our own.


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Received 13 May 1999, accepted 19 June 1999, revised 16 November 1999.
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