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Domestication of the Horse

by T.R.Holme

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There is an ongoing dispute as to when the horse was domesticated. Marija Gimbutas and others maintain that the Old European cultures never used the horse as anything but food, and certainly did not domesticate it prior to the arrival of the Kurgans. Gimbutas also contends that the Kurgans didn't domesticate the horse until about 5500 BC.

The elegantly carved ivory horse above was found in a cave in Germany and is dated at about the same time as the mammoth paintings of Vallon Pont D'arc cave in France, 30,000 BC. This horse figurine certainly gives one the feeling that the artist knew her well.

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The bone and antler horses pictured here all carbon-date to the Magdalenian age, 14,000 BC to 9,500 BC. Dozens of such carvings that have been found in the caves of Southwestern France. Clearly they  have bridles and straps -- indicating that humans had horses under their control. In the beginning horses might have been used for pulling. Horses could have been used to pull the weighty mammoth bones to the locations where mammothbone houses were built. Reindeer and cattle seem to have been ridden as well. Maybe even mammoth. Though very few would go so far as to believe that possible. I personally think it highly possible.

If I may be so bold I  would like to say that it seems possible to me that somehow Marija Gimbutas for some reason never heard about the Magdalenian horses with straps and bridles that were found in the caves of France and Spain. Because they really do speak for themselves. As much as I appreciate and admire the work of Marija Gimbutas, it does seem evident that the horse was domesticated long before 5500 BC. If we had to give a date to it 20,000 BC would not be out of reason, since many of the mammoth bone huts date that far back. Each structure was built from the bones of one hundred or so huge creatures which had to be brought somehow from whereever each one was killed to the site of the mammoth house being constructed. What an enormous amount of human work it would have been to bring each 200+ pound piece so far over hills and streams and rivers. Especially when it was a fresh kill because each tendon would need to be cut and each joint separated to get to a single bone. Short of that they would have to bring several pieces still connected together but that would certainly be more weight than they could manage. If they left the bones to sit and let the weather take its course another tribe might come along and take them for their own huts. So the smartest thing to do would be to get the entire mammoth home as quickly as possible, that means all the meat, all the hide, and all the tusks and bones. Duh! How long would it take a party of six hunters to carry all that sixty miles? --Times 90 mammoths for one house! But with a horse or mammoth to do the work the problem would be solved easily.

Much has been written about the evolution of lithic technologies in ancient man, but it seems to me that very little has been written about the corresponding advancement of cordage technologies. Arrowheads and spearheads had to be lashed to wood. Anyone who has ever tied a simple knot expecting it to hold, that didn't hold at all, will vouch for the necessity of fastening cordage in such a way that it functions well. The cordage must be strong enough so as not to break, and the wrapping and tying must not loosen or fall apart. Certainly these skills evolved simultaneously to flint knapping with Neanderthal and Cro Magnon man. Pierced beads would need to be strung on strands of fiber. Many stone and ivory ornaments have holes in them. Cordage technology then would be a huge working of knowledge among these ancients. They would constantly be seeking improved wrappings and knots. They would use sinew and they would use mammoth wool and horse tail and whatever else seemed likely to work well. They would NOT simply use this technology to fasten stone points to wooden shafts. They would use it to tie all kinds of things together. Hides would be wrapped around legs and feet with thongs. Scaffolds of wood would be tied together in caves to allow artists to reach high places for their paintings. And most important to our focus here, cordage would allow ancient man to bridal a living animal from capture in its infancy and force the creature to walk beside him towing or carrying heavy burdens. Ancient man possessed this cordage technology. If he could lash a flint spearpoint to a staff he could loop a cord around the neck of a colt or even a baby mammoth and lead him anywhere he desired.

So, with their knowledge of cordage they were completely able to tie up any living animal they came across, to capture it and take it with them. So why wouldn't they do it? If they killed a mare for food and the mare's tiny colt stood there looking at them on wobbly legs unable to run away, why would they have to kill it then and there? It wasn't going to escape. They had enough meat from the mare to feed them. They didn't need to kill the little colt too, did they? So the colt would live. And probably even follow them. They had the cordage knowledge to tether it. They would require no great stretch of imagination to put a cord around the colt's neck and lead it along with them. Or a baby mammoth the same. In short order these animals would not need tethers. They would be part of their human family. And sometimes the mother would take the child off her shoulders and set it on the back of the colt or the baby mammoth and let them carry it. It simply is illogical to believe that humans of the Magdalenian age never had horses or mammoths with them as they followed the herds. And it was probably even far older than that. Because orphaned baby animals will easily follow any human that is kind to it. Maybe not always, but sometimes. So this sort of thing would have been happening since the dawn of time and would have been the most natural thing in the world. -- And it would have been happening regardless of all the scientists today who say humans did not domesticate the horse until 2500BC.


When the last great ice age was at its peak the mammoths especially loved the tall grasslands that existed near to the edge of the glacier and this is where many of them roamed. And horses too. With humans following. They could and did roam these grasslands from the easternmost part of the continent to the westernmost part of the continent. They had no limitations other than natural boundaries of mountains or lakes which they eventually found some way through or around. The way language works, a language is uniform to a people within the context of their boundaries. So if a group of people live sendentarily within the area of a certain river valley their language will form in its own way separate and different from all other communities. But the boundaries of the mammoth people were the vastest area that a single language has ever stretched. They were a people with a common purpose, to follow the herds that roamed the glacier grasslands. They did so generation after generation after generation as milleniums passed, roaming east to west and west to east with no boundaries. And speaking elemental words that were uniformly understood whereever they went. I think so.

And this went on for thousands upon thousands of years until some unpassable boundaries formed which the mammoth people could not pass. And then the single language was divided. The boundaries formed when the weather warmed and the glacier began to melt. This great change didn't happen overnight, but gradually over a period of ten thousand years. Incrementally: an average increase in temperature of a thousandth of a degree hotter every year than the year before. Not very noticible in the lifespan of a man. But over the generations the increasing warmth changed their world. Immense rivers rushed forth that no humans could cross. These 30 mile wide hellish  rivers remained uncrossable for thousands of years. These rivers not only divided the mammoth people, they also divided language development. One group of mammoth hunters in particular were affected. The people that Marija Giimbutas has named the Kurgan people. They lived east of the 30 mile wide Volga River which flowed from the Northern Glacier to the Caspian Sea. The vast Eurasiatic Steppe extends east to Mongolia. Herds of horses and mammoths roamed this grassy world, just as they always had. But with the difference that they could no longer go to the western lands.

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The Kurgans lived on the western edge of the vast area known as Siberia. This map shows many of the archeological mammoth finds in Asia. Notice that the finds are mostly along rivers or the arctic shoreline. Much of this area was glacier free during the ice age. Mammoths are thought to have followed the rivers south in the fall and north in the spring. Whereever the mammoths went the human hunters followed. Primitive man was capable of traveling long distances. Notice the distance between France and the Black Sea on this map and think about the Danubian hunters who migrated along the Danube and Rhine. That distance is hardly anything compared to the vast Russian steppes. To cover the great distances in Siberia humans needed to ride animals. The red dot furthest to the right, is Wrangle Island where mammoths lived until about 4000 years ago. A mammoth from the southern Kolima River has been carbon-dated to around 9000 BC. So it is a safe guess that a few mammoths may have survived on the mainland as recently as 8000 BC. Notice the mammoth sites on the southern Ob River.

The map on the lower right shows the locations of paleolithic human sites in Siberia. Here along the rivers are found many of the characteristic round homes of the mammoth hunters with the 200 pound jawbones interlocked together. For ten thousand years these solid mammothbone huts wore into their brains and hearts and traditions. Nothing quite gave them the sense of home and timelessness than these 20 ton mammothbone huts. Their mammothbone drums were inside the huts, their whistles and flutes, their flint knives, their carnelian agates, their flint knives and axes, their amber jewelry -- all the precious memories of their culture for more than ten thousand years were in their hearts in the form of a gleaming white home of ivory.  Perhaps this is why it was that milleniums later when their direct descendants died they preferred to be buried in round tumulus graves, heavy stones and clay topped with an earthen mound. And inside with them were all the things that were precious to them in life. These tumulus burials have come to be called "kurgans" from the Turkish word for "barrow" or "tumulus". These are the Kurgan people -- the descendants of the mammoth hunters.

The area between the Enisey/Ob Rivers and the Volga River are the land of Kurgan roots. These were mammoth hunters until the mega-fauna vanished. Afterwards horses and cattle were their mainstay. Paleoanthropologists believe that the herding of cattle, the ownership of herds, created the concept of property. And since it was easier to steal grown cattle than to raise them this led to pillaging and warfare. The Kurgan people rode and herded horses. From these circumstances evolved the ruthless far-wandering Kurgan horseman.

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Please note that in the 10,000 BC map above the modern cities and rivers are shown as a point of reference. The blue area marks the extent of the greatest ice lake of Eurasia in the last Glacial Epoch. The Proto-Kurgans lived to the west of the lake's gargantuan outlet.

50 - Tomsk   51  - Srostki    52 - Udalinka     53  - Achinskaya    54  - Afontova Gora   55  - Birusa    56  - Novoserlovo     57  - Kokorevo     58  - Tashtyk    59  - Khemchik  60  - Krasny Yar    61  - Fedyaevo    62  - Buret,Malta    63  - Irkutsk    64 - Makarovo     65 - Oshurkovo     66 - Sanniy Mis      67 - Ikaral     68  - Ikhine     69 - Ust-Mil    70 - Verhne-Troitskoe    71 - Duktaiskayacave   72 - Ushkovskaya   73 - Osinovka      74 - Geo Soc cave     75 - Berelekh

During the final centuries of the ice age these people lived in a land of rushing torrential rivers and the largest freshwater lakes that have ever been on earth. The lake that covered most of what is now Siberia was at one time over 1500 miles wide. The Volga was a churning vision of hell.

The mighty Ob flows north to the Arctic. Blocked by the icecap the entire Ob valley formed a huge lake which no human could cross, unless perhaps on the back of a swimming mammoth -- or on a log being towed by a mammoth... Look at the maps above and notice that the human sites on the Ob coincide with the mammoth sites. They lived close together. Which indicates to me once again that humans had domesticated the mammoth. This domestication would have led quickly to the mammoth's extinction, because packaderms have poor eyesight and hunters easily invade to the center of wild herds on the backs of their domesticated mammoth.   Horses also could have been ridden into mammoth herds, or to chase an isolated mammoth until it was exhausted. Add to all this the incredible advancement of lithic technology. The flint blades were the most effective killing tools that had ever been known. A single stroke of flint spearpoint at the soft underbellie of a mammoth would spill its innards to the ground in an instant. And so it happened that mammoths went extinct in this age. And not only mammoths, but all the megafauna on earth.

There must have been vast numbers of people who gazed upon that end of the mammoths with horror. Because it is natural for humans to see God in everything, and especially in a beautiful wild creature like a buffalo. And surely it was even moreso with the mammoth. For the mammoth was a huge thing, a sensitive creature who shared with humans the clear capacity to love. They lived in herds and protected each other, and watched over their young. They could be fierce, but overall they were gentle creatures. With horror most of the human race watched their demise. And this event affected the spiritual development of the human race in ways that are quite subconscious now, since it happened so many thousands of years ago. But the affects are there, nonetheless, down deep inside us. This same terrible deed also affected the mammoth hunters themselves, the ones who killed the last mammoths. For they could not do this without losing some of their own human sensitivity. They had to de-sensitize themselves. They had to numb themselves to what they were doing. They had to learn to rationalize the huge fact that they knew they were killing the last of a magnificent species of animal, and that when they were gone they would never return again. It is no wonder that these Kurgan people would eventually run rampant across the western lands of Old Europe, murdering and massacring and raping and pillaging.

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You will notice Omsk on the maps. Here in the area of Omsk we find both mammoths and ancient man. Close by is the ancient village of Petropavlosk, perhaps the most ancient Kurgan site we know of today. Over 100,000 horsebones have been discovered near Petropavlosk dating back to around 5500 BC. One cannot help but wonder when the last mammoth was seen in the area of Omsk and Petropavlosk... Of all the animal bones found in the area horse bones constitute ninety percent. So we see from this that the Kurgan people were not nearly as interested in deer or cattle or sheep or goats as they were in horses. Another early Kurgan site is the Samara culture on the Volga river dating to around 5000 BC. Horse figurines, carved of bone and worn as pendants have been found here. And after a person was buried a fire was built atop his mound and a horse was sacrificed and burned there.

To the west of the Volga we find great rivers which flow west and northwest out of the Black Sea towards the Baltic, The Danube, Dneister, Dneiper and others; and other great rivers which start in the mountains and flow into the Atlantic or Baltic, the Rhine, Elbe, Oder, and Vistula. In this land of rivers there developed a boat people we now call The Maglemosian Culture. They traveled in dugout canoes. The oldest one, found in the Netherlands carbon-dates to 8000 BC. Another from NW Britain is equally as old. Still another from the Netherlands carbon-dates to 6300 BC. Archeologists have discovered that some of the trade items of these boat people originate from as far away as the Tigris-Eurphrates Valley, which of course is the location where Sumer came into existance. The Maglemosian Culture existed from about 8000 BC to 5700 BC. Considering once again that the extent of a language is determined by its range of social contact we may consider that the Proto Uralic language was dominant throughout this entire area.

The mammoths were all gone by the time the Volga had returned to the proportions we know of today and the Kurgans were finally able to cross. One wonders how the first meetings went between the Kurgan people and the people of the Black Sea.

"Hmmmph! Who are YOU??!!"  "Where did YOU come from???" "Where did you get such pretty and unusual jewelry???" "Are all your daughters THIS BEAUTIFUL???" "Who is the mightiest warrier between you and me?" "How about a game of chance?" "So you are hungry are you? Well -- I will give you four cattle and one bull for the girl with the red hair." "Go away quickly with your strange language and funny ways! We are tired of you people. You annoy us and make trouble. Go back to your own land before we have a war between us..."

Except they could not speak each other's language. Because the uncrossable iceage Volga had separated their language development. The language spoken by the Kurgan peoples was the Proto-PIE language. And the language of the people west of the Volga and the Black Sea was the non-IndoEuropean, Proto Uralic language. The only way the two cultures had of communicating was by drawing pictures in the sand, or in clay. And so, is it possible that this was how and why the first pictographs came into being? Because the earliest symbols scratched on clay pots from archeological digs near the Black Sea have been carbon-dated to between 6 and 7 thousand BC. Which is about when the Kurgans would have finally been able to cross the Volga to enter the lands of the Black Sea people.

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The Sacred Huts

I wonder if we might have failed to realize the impression the primordial mammoth huts made upon the descendants of the people who built them. Mesolithic hunter/gatherers in their wanderings would certainly come upon mammoth hut ruins time after time after time. There were so many of these mammoth bone huts, gleaming white in the sun, spread all over the best hunting grounds of Poland and the Ukraine, sinking deeper and deeper into the earth as each century passed. Weighing many tons each the huts would not be moved by storm or even earthquake. They would just sit there and glow like ivory moonlight on the earth. They would be reverred. Think of it. A thousand years after the last mammoth had died there would still remain these mammoth bone huts for all to see. Two thousand years. Three thousand years. Still standing. Hunters who knew animals well, knew bones, would see these huge bones and be dumbstruck. What sort of creature had such huge bones? And then the realization would come to them that it was their ancestors who had hunted the great beasts and built the huts. The mammoth bone huts would be sacred to them, would represent their ancestors. And their awe would build and build with each generation as the milleniums passed between 20,000 BC and the time of the kurgans, 5000 BC. The mammothbone hut would be featured in their oral traditions passed on from grandfather to father to son down through the ages.   As the centuries and milleniums passed the earth and grass would rise higher and higher around the mammoth bones until finally all that would be left would be a mound of earth -- and still their oral traditions would tell them the bones of their noble ancestors lay beneath that mound. This shining ivory mausoleum vision and the round mound of earth were embedded in their psyches. They would come to these huts as if to a temple and sit inside and observe the moonlight upon the ivory and listen to the wind and they would tap at the bones with their stone tools. This was their sacred ivory moonlight xylophone temple.

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Songs and chants and genealogies sung solemnly by their ancient men and women and listened to with awe-struck ears by wide-eyed children would bridge the ages long gap between the builders of the mammoth huts and the people of the Kurgan burial mounds.

In the oldest of the old Irish tales there is often a line that is a curse upon any ollamh that changes so much as a single word of a sacred song. Songs had to memorized and passed on to the next generation exact. Genealogies in particular. Every name had to be remembered. Oral genealogies went back a thousand years or more that we know of. The genealogies of the Bible were oral memories before they were first written down. Genealogies contained not only names, but the great deeds of men and women. In addition to genealogies, great migrations were remembered, great wars, great heroics, great possessions, great personalities, as wisemen and genealogists.... Caesar said the druids studied for 20 years in Britain before they came to Gaul. Wise men everywhere, in all cultures, were responsible for the oral memories of their people. And it is certain that each word of each song had to be remembered exact. Or penalties could be exacted. The tradition was severe.

Ten thousand years seems a long time to us today. We live in an age of top forty radio hits where the top song on the hit parade today is lost and forgotten by the next generation, if not by the next year. Memorization is so neglected that it is possible that the human mind has actually lost a great ability that it once possessed. Young Jewish scholars are still required to memorize entire books of the Bible. But few other cultures strengthen the mind in these ways. So there is the bridge. Keen and exceedingly rigorous oral tradition. Kurgan children learning to sing exactly the same songs that their great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfathers sang. Telling exactly the same stories. Learning the sacredness of retelling the story exactly the way they heard it. Sometimes even down to the syllables. Sometimes, so much so, that the song is in an ancient religion that isn't even spoken by the people anymore, and isn't even understood by anyone in the clan except the priest. Sacred Priest languages exist in many cultures. My grandmother taught me the words of an old Norwegian song when I was a little boy. I still remember the words. But I don't know their exact meaning.

We would think it weird today for anyone to have only oral tradition knowledge and no books, no television, no libraries. Only a family campfire that goes back a hundred thousand years and more. But this ancient family campfire was also the cultural library and school of the people. To such people as these the white boned huts disappearing into the earth on the family hunting grounds would be among their most sacred focal points. The huge gleaming ivory bones of creatures that no longer exist... What stories might they have that held more power than this?

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