Eneolithic Horse Exploitation in the Eurasian Steppes: Diet, Ritual and Riding

By Anthony, David W.; Brown, Dorcas R. | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Eneolithic Horse Exploitation in the Eurasian Steppes: Diet, Ritual and Riding


Anthony, David W., Brown, Dorcas R., Antiquity


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, ? … 

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