With National Science Foundation support, Dr. Benjamin Arbuckle will direct three years of multi-disciplinary, international field and lab research at four sites in central Turkey. This project brings together an international team of researchers from the US, Canada, Turkey, France and Germany with specialties in archaeology, zooarchaeology, paleogenetics, isotope biochemistry and paleobotany to provide the first comprehensive picture of the history of Asiatic ass and wild horse hunting and the subsequent emergence of domestic horses in the Middle East.

The domestication of the horse represents one of the most important technological achievements of the ancient world and revolutionized strategies of subsistence exchange, interaction and warfare across the Old World. Although the history of horse domestication in the steppic regions of western Eurasia is slowly coming into greater focus, the origins of the domestic horse in the Near East continues to represent a major archaeological puzzle. Although it has long been acknowledged on geographic grounds that ancient Turkey may have played an important role in the transmission of domestic horses into the Middle East, few data have been available to adequately test these hypotheses, and the social and biological processes responsible for the origins of domestic horses in the Greater Near East remain obscure.

Through an innovative combination of archaeological, genetic and isotopic datasets this project will build a detailed interpretive framework that will 1) define the nature of the newly discovered patterns of intensive wild horse and Asiatic ass hunting on the Anatolian plateau, 2) evaluate the roles of local domestication versus importation in the appearance of domestic horses in the region, and 3) understand the social processes responsible for the origins of domestic horses. By applying a powerful combination of methods to newly available archaeological assemblages rich in horse remains, this project has the potential to provide a radically new perspective on the origins of the domestic horse, one of the most important innovations of the ancient world.

The intellectual merit of the research is multidisciplinary in scope. It will significantly impact research addressing the process of animal domestication and the transmission of innovative technologies, both major topics of archaeological and anthropological inquiry. It will also provide new insights into the history and origins of equines, and will add to the understanding of the biodiversity of an important livestock species.

The broader impacts of the study are that it will support international cooperation and collaboration between American, French, German, Canadian and Turkish researchers across multiple disciplines. It will also provide support for training a graduate student and will help support the development of innovative research methods in paleogenetics as well as archaeology. Results will be made accessible via open access web publications, ensuring the broadest possible impact.

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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill
United States
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