Ancient Horse Mother Found

1 02 2012

A team of geneticists, paleontologists, and archaeologists have identified the ancient mother of all the horses alive today, according to a paper (link here) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 30.

The study, led by Alessandro Achilli, of the Dipartimento di Biologia Cellulare e Ambientale, at the Università di Perugia, in Perugia, Italy, determined that the common ancestral mare to all living horses trotted the earth between 130,000 and 160,000 years ago, with a date of approximately 140,000 years being most likely.  More importantly, the study also identified 18 major clusters of genes called haplogroups, that were involved in the domestication of horses.

Torroni and his colleagues examined 83 modern horse genomes from the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.  While the generalities of horse domestication are broadly understood, the specifics of time and location are not.  This study sheds significant light on these aspects of the horse’s natural history.

The study indicates that horses were domesticated over a broad area of Eurasia with multiple incidents of domestication occurring at different times.  This differs from many other domestic animals, such as cattle and sheep, which were domesticated from a handful of animals at very specific locations and then spread through trade and capture.  At least one of these domestication events took place in Europe, with Iberia being a possible location for it.

Horses have an extended and close relationship with humans.  They have played a major role in human history.  Horses were widely used in warfare until the end of World War I, and were still used to some extent even in World War II.  In civilian use, millions of horses were engaged for transportation and to haul goods until the 1920s, when they were largely replaced by trucks and automobiles.  They were still a common sight on many American roads until the 1940s.

In addition to its general scientific interest, the paper points out that the results of the study can also be used to classify fossil horse remains, identifying where they belong on the horse family tree; better define and understand modern horse breeds and their ancestry; and evaluate the role of maternal ancestry in racehorse performance.


A 30,000 year old rock painting from Bhimbetka in north central India, showing a man riding a horse. This image comes from Wiki Commons and is used under the GNU Free Documentation License

Coastal Paleontologist Blogs on Early Seal Evolution

29 03 2010
This image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.  It is by Vivien Thiessen, and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.

The comparative anatomy of an otariid seal and a phocid seal, both of which are discussed in Coastal Paleontologist’s blog piece.

The Coastal Paleontologist has a very interesting piece on early seal evolution.  It can be found at the following location:  Pinniped ancestry: the “Oligocene Seal” from South Carolina.

Following is the first paragraph from the blog, just as a teaser:

One of the most fascinating aspects of the study of marine mammals are the origins of the land to sea transition in various groups. Often marine mammals are so adapted for marine existence, that it is difficult to identify what group (fossil or modern) they descended from. Such has been the case with the origin of whales, for example. While I’m certainly interested in cetaceans, there has been a ton written about them, and I’m currently more intrigued by pinnipeds.