Researchers figured out how the ancestors of modern horses migrated

An international research team determined that ancestors of modern domestic horses and the Przewalski horse moved from the territory of Eurasia (Russian Urals, Siberia, Chukotka, and eastern China) to North America (Yukon, Alaska, continental USA) from one continent on another at least twice.

It happened during the Late Pleistocene (2.5 million years ago – 11.7 thousand years ago). The analysis results are published in the journal. The findings and description of horse genomes are published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

- Advertisement -

“We found out that the Beringian Land Bridge, or the area known as Beringia, influenced genetic diversity within horses and beyond,” said senior researcher at the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ural Federal University (Russia) Dmitry Gimranov. “Owing to the appearance of this land part, the flow of genes among mammoths, bison, and wolves could occur regularly. And if 1-0.8 million years ago horses from North America were not yet widespread in Eurasia, then in the periods of 950-450 and 200-50 thousand years ago, there was a bidirectional spread of genes over long distances.”

In other words, horses migrated between continents not only in one direction but also vice versa. The first wave of migration was predominantly from North America to Eurasia. The second migration was dominated by the movement from Eurasia to North America.

The most important researchers conclude that most animals used the Beringian Land Bridge only once, and horses several times. This fact could significantly affect the genetic structure of horse populations and made them very interesting objects of research for paleogeneticists.

To determine the area of settlement of horses, molecular biologists studied horses’ DNA from both continents. From 262 samples of bones and teeth, they selected 78 with sufficient DNA. Researchers conducted radiocarbon dating and genetic analysis at the Denmark and USA laboratories. In addition, they looked at the research data from 112 samples.

- Advertisement -

“The data shows that horses returned to North America from Eurasia across Beringia at about the same time as bison, brown bears, and lions,” says Dmitry Gimranov. “That is, in the last “days” of the late Pleistocene, when the territory was not covered by water and it was like a bridge for the movement of many groups of animals. With the beginning of climate warming (the beginning of the Holocene or 11.7 thousand years ago) and the last disappearance of Beringia at the end of the Pleistocene, the biogeographic significance of this ecological corridor radically changed the history of terrestrial animal species on both continents.”

Although the North American horse population eventually became extinct in the early Holocene, horses became widespread on both continents due to domestication and are now found far beyond their historical range.


Image Credit : Public Domain

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Archaeologists search crash site of WWII B-17 for lost pilot

Archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology are excavating the crash site of a WWII B-17 Flying Fortress in an English woodland.

Roman Era tomb found guarded by carved bull heads

Archaeologists excavating at the ancient Tharsa necropolis have uncovered a Roman Era tomb guarded by two carved bull heads.

Revolutionary war barracks discovered at Colonial Williamsburg

Archaeologists excavating at Colonial Williamsburg have discovered a barracks for soldiers of the Continental Army during the American War of Independence.

Pleistocene hunter-gatherers settled in Cyprus thousands of years earlier than previously thought

Archaeologists have found that Pleistocene hunter-gatherers settled in Cyprus thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

Groundbreaking study reveals new insights into chosen locations of pyramids’ sites

A groundbreaking study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, has revealed why the largest concentration of pyramids in Egypt were built along a narrow desert strip.

Soldiers’ graffiti depicting hangings found on door at Dover Castle

Conservation of a Georgian door at Dover Castle has revealed etchings depicting hangings and graffiti from time of French Revolution.

Archaeologists find Roman villa with ornate indoor plunge pool

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Cultural Heritage have uncovered a Roman villa with an indoor plunge pool during excavations at the port city of Durrës, Albania.

Archaeologists excavate medieval timber hall

Archaeologists from the University of York have returned to Skipsea in East Yorkshire, England, to excavate the remains of a medieval timber hall.