Arabian Horses and the Aryans

(from Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities)

Recently Saudi Arabian officials claimed they have evidence that horses were domesticated in the Arabian peninsula around 9,000 years back.

“This discovery will change our knowledge concerning the domestication of horses and the evolution of culture in the late Neolithic period,” he told a news conference in Jeddah, according to the Reuters news agency.
“The al-Maqar civilisation is a very advanced civilization of the Neolithic period. This site shows us clearly, the roots of the domestication of horses 9,000 years ago,” he added.
Although humans came into contact with horses about 50,000 years ago, they were originally herded for meat, skins, and possibly for milk.[Saudis ‘find evidence of early horse domestication]

This is shocking: archaeological news from a country which has declared war on archaeology?
The website of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities has a large number of photos from al-Maqar. One of the artifacts is a sculpture of a horse around 100 cm long. On this horse, there are signs of a bridle which proves that the horse was domesticated much earlier than what we thought before. While this is interesting news as it pushes the antiquity of horse domestication by a few millenia, it has a serious impact on a version of Aryan Invasion Theory which depends on the date of horse domestication.
According to this  version of history, the Indus civilization fell to the invaders. In The Wonder that was India, A L Basham gives a dramatic account of this fall. According to him, the barbarians who were already ranging the provinces finally made their move. The citizens of the Mohenjo-daro were no match for the invaders who had superior weapons. Basham also notes that the invaders trimphed because they had the terror striking beasts of the steppes.
These terror striking beasts are horses which till last week was considered to be first domesticated in the steppes of Central Asia. They were probably first domesticated by the Botai people of Kazakstan. In fact there is no dispute over the fact that horses were alien to India and were domesticated by nomads in the Pontic-Caspian region.
According to one of the Indo-European homeland hypothesis known as the Kurgan theory, these mounted warriors from this region, after domesticating the horse used this advantage to impose their culture on their neighbors in Old Europe. These “Aryans” then displaced the “Dravidians” in a kind of fairy tale.
What happens to this theory if the horse was not domesticated near the Caspian sea, but somewhere in the middle of Saudi Arabia as per the new evidence? Did the horsemen wait for few millennia to time their adventure with the decline of the Harappan civilization? If the Aryans indeed came from the Caspian sea area, what prompted them to make a move around that period?

  1. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).

6 thoughts on “Arabian Horses and the Aryans

  1. A bit strong, surely, that the Saudis have declared war on archaeology? They have clerics who oppose any monument related to Mohammed and his family as those might become shrines, and they are not keen on any information on the pre-Islamic past, but the authorities have allowed quite a bit of exploratory work, esp in the old Nabatean areas. (Do you remember that programme ‘Frankincense Trail’? BBC woman went from Yemen to Israel via Medina Saleh in Saudi.)

  2. Barbarians could become horse riders just after the advanced people domesticated horses,made vagons first (like Sumerians),advanced them into chariots with complicated bending techniks,trained the horses,after that they have to breed stronge horses for the horseback riding- ie to make the great civilization as Assyrians did! After that if they remained Aryan barbarians they where able to conquer the world. Ha Ha.

  3. This is shocking: archaeological news from a country which has declared war on archaeology?
    In this statement, you are confusing Saudi clerics witht he Saudi govt. and bueracracy. In India , we have crazies like the RSS/VHP e.t.c who falsify history and are against any other archaelogical or historical findings, that doesn’t mean India is against history.
    Besides, historians have held that there have been simultaneous domestication of horses possible in climatic areas suitable for horses to thrive. So Central Asia, Inland China, Arabia are examples of these. As the climate changes, other areas allowed domestication and breeding of horses

  4. There is a good reason behind Governments encouraging Archeological exploration regardless of what the religious elements would say.
    It is this latest bullishness of marketing the Archeological finds and turning them into Tourist destinations for revenue.
    Another example – Dholavira in Gujarat

  5. The most powerful blow to the Aryan Invasion Theory came not from the study of the human DNA but from the studies of the horse DNA. The theory had rested on the hypothesis that the steppe was the home of the wild caballus horse Przewalskii, which was domesticated there and with the help of this domesticated horse the countries to the west (Europe) and to the south (India, Iran) were conquered by the Aryans of the steppe. However the DNA examinations of the horses have contradicted this view. They have revealed that the Przewalskii was not a member of the caballus horse species at all, but it was an independent species with two chromosomes more than the true horse–Equus caballus (or Equus ferus f. caballus). Other studies came out with the conclusion that the DNAs recovered from the archaeological remains of the domestic horse found in Central Asia and western steppe were all of the horses originating in China or anywhere else but not in the steppe itself. Frachetti demonstrated that the domestic horse and riding became features of Central Asian nomads in the Common Era, and not before that. Levine clarified that the horse bones recoverd from the steppe and Central Asia belonged to the hunted horses, not the domestic horses.

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