Palaeopathology and the origins and evolution of horse husbandry

A collaborative, interdisciplinary project, rooted in archaeology and employing veterinary science to identify osteological differences between riding, traction and free-living horses, resulting from their different life-ways, in order to further our understanding of the origins and evolution of horse husbandry. Two analytical methods are employed:
1) A detailed comparative study of skeletons from a wide range of sources, both modern and ancient. We are examining samples from 3 populations of modern horses (free-living Exmoor ponies, Lithuanian draught horses, and riding ponies. The archaeological samples include riding horses that wore pad saddles and those that wore frame saddles, as well as chariot horses.
2) A study in which we use force-sensing array (FSA) technology to measure the pressure distribution on a horse's back when it is ridden using different types of saddles and bareback.

Prof. Leo B. Jeffcott was originally the project Principal Investigator. When he took a new position in Australia, Prof. Graeme Barker agreed to take over as Principal Investigator. Prof. Jeffcott remains a collaborator on this project.

Principal investigator
Professor Graeme Barker
Principal project staff
Dr Marsha Levine; Professor Graeme Barker
Start date
Tuesday, July 1, 2003
Completion date
Friday, December 1, 2006
Source material
The digital resources comprise horse bones and teeth from archaeological deposits and from modern comparative material. It has not been possible to study all the material collected. The resources comprise: Modern free-living Exmoor ponies (6 skeletons, 938 elements); modern Lithuanian farm horses, mainly for traction (2 skeletons, 400 elements); Bronze Age Chinese chariotry horses from (12 skeletons, 1465 elements); Medieval Lithuanian horses (use unknown)(3 skeletons, 422 elements); Early Iron Age riding horses from Ak-Alakha (4 skeletons, 652 elements); Early Iron Age riding horse from Lisovichi (1 skeleton, 120 elements); Medieval riding horse from Ak-Alakha (2 skeletons, 250 elements). The skeletons of the modern Lithuanian draught horses, Exmoor pony skeletons and British riding ponies are currently based at the McDonald Institute. The 12 Chinese chariot burials were from Sun Jia Nan Tou, Fengxiang County, Shaanxi, China and studied there. The 3 Medieval Lithuanian horses were studied at the Lithuanian Veterinary academy. We additionally have data from earlier projects: 4 Early Iron Age horses and 2 Medieval Turkic horses (Ak-Alakha, Altai) studied at the Department of Archaeology, Academgorodok, Novosibirsk, Russia; 1 Early Iron Age horse from the Institute of Archaeology, Kiev, Ukraine.

2004 Levine, M.A. Exploring the criteria for early horse domestication, in M. Jones (ed.), Traces of Ancestry: Studies in Honour of Colin Renfrew: 115-26. McDonald Institute Monograph. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

2005 Levine, M.A. Domestication and early history of the horse, in D.M. Mills & S.M. McDonnell (ed.), The Domestic Horse: the Origins, Development and Management of its Behaviour. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 5-22.

2005 Levine, M.A., Xunhua Ma De Qiyuan Yanjiu [Investigating the origins of horse domestication], Tulufanxue Yanjiu [Turfanological Research],2005 (2):87-99. [in Chinese]

2005 Levine, M.A., K.E. Whitwell & L.B. Jeffcott. Abnormal thoracic vertebrae and the evolution of horse husbandry, Archaeofauna, 14, pp. 93-109.

2006 McGahern, A., M. M. Bower, C. J. Edwards, P. O. Brophy, G. Sulimova, I. Zacharov, M. Vizuete-Forster, M. Levine, S. Li, D. E. MacHugh and E. W. Hill. "Evidence for biogeographic patterning of mitochondrial DNA sequences in Eastern horse populations." Animal Genetic, 37, 494–497.

2006 Levine, M.A. mtDNA and horse domestication: the archaeologist’s cut, in M. Mashkour (ed.), Equids in Time and Space. Proceedings of the 9th international Conference of Archaeozoology (Durham). Oxford: Oxbow, pp 192-201.

In prep. Levine, M. A., Holmes, M., Li Shuicheng, Zhang Yuzhong, Lu Enguo, Otchir-Gorieva, M., Taylor, C., Whitwell, K. E., Jeffcott, L. B. "An experimental study of technological change in Inner Asia: The reconstruction of an ancient saddle from Subeixi (Xinjiang)."

In prep. Levine, M. A., Whitwell, K. E., Jeffcott, L. B. A new methodology for describing and grading osteological changes and abnormalities in modern and ancient horses: thoracic vertebrae.

In prep. Levine, M. A., Li Shuicheng, Tien Jacqi, Whitwell, K. E. “Horse skeletons from two late Spring and Autumn Period (c. 770-475 BC) chariot pits at Feng Xiang Sunjia’nantou (Shaanxi)”