Tracking Five Millennia of Horse Management with Extensive Ancient Genome Time Series

Cell. 2019 May 30;177(6):1419-1435.e31. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2019.03.049. Epub 2019 May 2.


Horse domestication revolutionized warfare and accelerated travel, trade, and the geographic expansion of languages. Here, we present the largest DNA time series for a non-human organism to date, including genome-scale data from 149 ancient animals and 129 ancient genomes (≥1-fold coverage), 87 of which are new. This extensive dataset allows us to assess the modern legacy of past equestrian civilizations. We find that two extinct horse lineages existed during early domestication, one at the far western (Iberia) and the other at the far eastern range (Siberia) of Eurasia. None of these contributed significantly to modern diversity. We show that the influence of Persian-related horse lineages increased following the Islamic conquests in Europe and Asia. Multiple alleles associated with elite-racing, including at the MSTN "speed gene," only rose in popularity within the last millennium. Finally, the development of modern breeding impacted genetic diversity more dramatically than the previous millennia of human management.

Keywords: ancient DNA; animal breeding; diversity; domestication; equestrian civilizations; extinct lineages; horses; management; mules; selection.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asia
  • Biological Evolution
  • Breeding / history
  • DNA, Ancient / analysis
  • Domestication
  • Equidae / genetics
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Genome / genetics
  • History, Ancient
  • Horses / genetics*
  • Male
  • Phylogeny


  • DNA, Ancient