Saturday, August 4, 2018

Horses may have been ridden in battle as early as the Bronze Age (Chechushkov et al. 2018)

Over at the Journal of Archaeological Science at this LINK. Below is the abstract. Emphasis is mine:

The morphological similarities/dissimilarities between antler and bone-made cheekpieces have been employed in several studies to construct a relative chronology for Bronze Age Eurasia. Believed to constitute a part of the horse bit, the cheekpieces appear in ritual contexts everywhere from the Mycenaean Shaft Graves to the Bronze Age kurgan cemeteries in Siberia. However, these general understandings of the function and morphological changes of cheekpieces have never been rigorously tested. This paper presents statistical analyses (e.g., similarities, multidimensional scaling, and cluster analysis) that document differences in cheekpiece morphology, comparing shield-like, plate-formed, and rod-shaped types in the context of temporal change and spatial variation. We investigated changes in function over time through the use of experimental replicas used in bridling horses. This experimental work supports the hypothesis that these objects served to bridle harnessed (shield-like) or ridden (plate-formed and rod-shaped) horses. Moreover, comparison of use wear on the ancient artifacts with the replicas provides insight into how long the artifacts were used before they were deposited in the funeral contexts or discarded. These observations support that the Sintashta chariots dating back to ca. 2100 BC were ridden and suggest the end of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1500–1200 BC) as the earliest possible date for horseback riding in warfare. This study highlights changes in horse exploitation and simultaneous shifts in human societies.

Chechushkov et al., Early horse bridle with cheekpieces as a marker of social change: An experimental and statistical study, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 97, September 2018, Pages 125-136,

See also...

Of horses and men

An early Iranian, obviously

Graeco-Aryan parallels


  1. Somewhere I read that chariot horses were too small to ride, and that it took some time to breed horses big enoght to mount. When does this shift in sizw so up in the graves?

  2. Apparently horses were bigger in the Czech Republic during the Late Neolithic/Bronze Age. Some as tall as 168cm. Apparently horses were significantly smaller in the later Unetice Culture.

    And interestingly Bell Beaker Horses and horses at Csepel in Hungary were also much bigger although not reaching the size of the Czech horses...

  3. Something interesting to consider.

  4. 1500 BCE seems circumstantially to be evidence in favor of mounted combat being invented by the early Iranians. I don't recall much reference to horse riding from Vedic or Mitanni studies, and the date falls after the estimates I've seen of the breakup of Proto-II.

    So this may have been the innovation that put Proto-Iranians on the map, perhaps even what allowed them to push out the Indo-Aryans from Central Asia and build to the Scythian era of Iranian dominance on the steppe.

  5. Maybe the bridle originated due to problems occurring with trying to steer horses pulling a chariot ?

    A horse can feel a riders body motions and move accordingly while a chariot rider do not have that advantage that helps with steering. So the bridle could have been a later invention....

  6. @sykes.1

    People were a lot smaller back then as well. :)

  7. Looks like this study went under everyone's radar.

    A genetic perspective on Longobard-Era migrations

    Only mitogenomes (87). As I was finishing collecting all the mitogenomes on Ian Logan's site I saw this was the only set I missed.

  8. "as the earliest possible date for horseback riding in warfare"

    the refutation of the need for bridles in cavalry warfare is carved in stone on Trajan's column.

    the Numidian mercenaries Rome and Carthage used as light cavalry didn't use bridles just a halter around the neck - it's true they weren't any good as melee cavalry but they were great for raiding/scouting and for hit and run tactics in battle throwing javelins (like a short range version of horse archers).

    so i think what they're doing here is looking for the advent of cavalry warfare but they're actually finding the advent of *melee* cavalry (or chariotry) warfare instead.


    "A horse can feel a riders body motions and move accordingly while a chariot rider do not have that advantage that helps with steering."

    interesting thought - chariots requiring an innovation in horse control


    "Mongol horses are of a stocky build, with relatively short but strong legs and a large head. They weigh about 600 lbs.[1] and range in size from 12 to 14 hands (48 to 56 inches, 122 to 142 cm) high."

    i think both the horse size and bridle/saddle/stirrups questions are related to the effectiveness of *melee* cavalry not raiding/missile cavalry.

    an armored knight needs a giant horse - numidians/mongols not so much


    apparently (the internet says) there are experts (connected to horse racing) who can tell from horse bones if a horse was ridden or not and at what age - i'm hoping someone will show one of those experts a load of bronze age horse bones to see if that can settle the argument.

  9. Horse person here; (BTW love this blog and I lurk all the time and comment about once a year).
    I note difference between 'mounted warriors' i.e. cavalry and the scenario envisioned by Anthony. Anthony postulated horses ridden about 4,000 BCE as rapid transportation to raiding target, then warriors got off and fought on foot. Cavalry/mounted warriors depend a great deal on stirrups (which allow hurling javelins and shooting short bows) and leg control of the horse, but there has to be some kind of head control otherwise the horse in excitement can get its head down and throw the rider. If the horse can get its head down then you're off --- on foot in the middle of a battle and possibly broken bones/knocked out. Stirrups a late invention. An alternative to bits is the Middle Eastern nose flange placed on a noseband which when reins are pulled puts pain/pressure on delicate bones of upper nose. Still used today in the Middle East and also in regulation gear with Barb-derived traditions such as Andalusians, Barbaries, Paso Finoa. I think the nose flange is very old. Perhaps preceding bits. You can see one in that famous photo of the first Special Forces that went into Afghanistan after 9/11, they are riding with local Afghanis and the horse bridles all have nose flanges. As for controlling horses with signals from the legs etc. these are suggestions, not orders; a bridle is an enforcer of orders. Without a bridle and control of the head you are saying 'pretty please'.

  10. @ pjiles

    Yes and therefore the method of breaking in a horse comes into play. If you do it slowly from a young age and build trust then the horse is very attuned to your movements and will only become stressed if you are stressed.

    When breaking the horse in rodeo style in a loose ploughed field then many such horses tend to be unreliable and develope all kinds of ways to get rid of their rider...Heheheeeh.

  11. Something interesting to watch:

  12. Ric Hern

    i love those vids - mentally change the rider to a dude with a top knot and scythian tattoos and i personally think we have the answer to why cucuteni moved to sumeria (jk)

  13. @ Grey

    Yes maybe this is where the Myths of the Centaurs comes from. Old Europeans didn't know how these Steppe people controlled their horses because they did not see any bridle or leed rope.The old Europeans certainly knew how to control oxen so they shouldn't have been so surprised about the control of a horse by means of bridles or ropes, yet they were surprised by these Steppe people and how they came to control their horses....

  14. From Wikipedia:

    The most common theory holds that the idea of centaurs came from the first reaction of a non-riding culture, as in the Minoan Aegean world, to nomads who were mounted on horses.

    So there seems to be a correlation between the origin of the Centaur myth with the time when horses were probably first ridden in battles on the steppes by the Srubnaya and related peoples.

  15. Could this be where the Early Steppe DNA is hiding ?

  16. Color me more than a little skeptical of the speculation on centaur origin. Do mermaids come from skinny dippers hitching rides on tuna? Sphinxes from people hitching rides on lions? Cherubim a guy and a bird on a lion?

  17. @ Orthogonal

    I think there is a significant difference. The Centaurs was originally pictured with human front legs and feet if I remember correctly while Sphinxes and Cherubim only with Human Heads....

    The Mermaids could have been Skinny dippers swimming with Dolphins...Heheheeeh..

    But I think Ancient DNA from Thessaly will throw light on the subject...


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