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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scientist: Ukrainians Were First Riders

ATLANTA, Georgia -- Six thousand years ago a brave, unknown Ukrainian stuck a piece of bone in the mouth of a horse, attached a bridle, sat astride the animal and invented horseback riding.


That's the conclusion of David Anthony, an anthropologist who searched for the origins of horsemanship by studying marks on the teeth of ancient horses in museums around the world.


Learning to domesticate and ride horses marked a revolution in human civilization, enabling humans at a time before the wheel to travel great distances and find new ways to live, Anthony said Sunday at the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


The ancients who first rode horses were a "scruffy people'' who were forced to live in the river valleys of Ukraine. Beyond the rivers, they were trapped by vast grasslands that defied easy travel on foot, Anthony said.


"There were huge herds of horses then and the first use of those horses was to eat them,'' he said. "Horses to them [early Ukrainians] were like the buffalo to the American Indians.''


Anthony began searching for the origins of horseback riding by studying the teeth of modern horses, both wild and tame. He found that under an electron microscope the use of a bit -- a bar placed in the teeth of horses -- left a distinctive mark on the teeth.


The scientist from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, then began studying the teeth from ancient horses that were in museums around the world. It was in a Russian collection that he found the earliest evidence for the use of a bit. Carbon dating placed the age of the horses at 4,000 B.C.


Anthony said he experimented on modern horses with a number of materials that could have been used for that first bit, and determined that bone most closely matched the teeth marks found in the ancient specimens.


"I'm sure the bit was used for riding,'' he said. "A bit is used to direct a horse from behind and this was before the invention of the wheel.''


Eventually, the horses allowed people to leave their river valleys and roam across thousands of kilometers of grasslands, from the Carpathian Mountains to Mongolia, Anthony said.