Thursday, August 12, 2010

Domesticating horses

From the back flap of Kathleen Duey's Katie and the Mustang, which Beanie is reading currently:

Girls throughout history, in almost every country, have grown up trusting horses with their friendship, their secrets, and even their very lives.

I begin my parenthropological examination of this quote with questions about when, where, and why horses were domesticated - which happen to be exactly the questions that archaeologist David Anthony addresses in his 2007 book, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language.

Chapter 10 is titled "The Domestication of the Horse and the Origins of Riding: The Tale of the Teeth," which begins with a story about how finding the answers to larger questions require finding the answers to smaller questions. It goes back to the wisdom of looking at a horse's teeth. "Bit wear is important, because other kinds of evidence have proven uncertain guides to early horse domestication. Genetic evidence, which we might hope would solve the problem, does not help much" (Anthony 2007:196).

The female bloodline of modern domesticated horses show extreme diversity.... Wild mares must have been taken into domesticated horse herds in many different places at different times. Meanwhile, the male aspect of modern horse DNA, which is passed unchanged on the Y chromosome from sire to colt, shows remarkable homogeneity. It is possible that just a single wild stallion was domesticated (Anthony 2007:196).

Wild horses were likely to have lived across the Northern Hemisphere, but became extinct in North America 10 to 14,000 years ago, with climate change.

Evidence of the domestication of horses has been found in the Eurasian steppes, located north of the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea.

What was the incentive to tame wild horses if people already had cattle and sheep? Was it for transportation? Almost certainly not. Horses were large, powerful, aggressive animals, more inclined to flee or fight than to carry a human. Riding probably developed only after horses were already familiar as domesticated animals that could be controlled. The initial incentive probably was the desire for a cheap source of winter meat (Anthony 2007:200).

Surprising as it might seem - it was to me - I think this bit of information about the domestication of horses is relevant to the stories that girls like Beanie and me love(d). In books like Katie and the Mustang or the American Girl story, Meet Felicity, a wild horse, in fact a stallion, becomes tamed through the care of a young girl. This fiction seems to be an echo of a larger fiction about why horses became domesticated in the first place. Consider that, in human history, the significance of horses has changed. They have become sentimentalized and romanticized.

No comments:

Post a Comment