Using mitochondrial DNA, researchers have discovered that every horse that’s ever roamed Mother Earth can be traced to a single female ancestor that lived about 140,000 years ago.
The study, led by Alessandro Achilli, a researcher in the department of cellular and environmental biology at the Universita di Perugia in Italy, identified 18 genetic clusters that suggest domestication of the horse happened in many places across Europe and Asia. This is “unlike modern livestock, such as cattle and sheep, which were derived from a handful of animals domesticated around 10,000 years ago in just a few places,” the study says.
The study also notes how the domestication of the wild horse was a fundamental step in human development.
“The horse served as a means to provide food, facilitate transportation, and (since the Bronze age) enhance warfare capabilities. A question that has not yet been completely addressed concerns the timing and mode in which humans began to benefit from the employment of these animals.”
The discoveries were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and may also help classify well-preserved horse fossils.