Republication from (University of Copenhagen)

Indo-European languages

A new study has discovered that horses were first domesticated by descendants of hunter-gatherer groups in Kazakhstan who left little direct trace in the ancestry of modern populations. The research sheds new light on the long-standing “steppe theory” on the origin and movement of Indo-European languages made possible by the domestication of the horse.

The domestication of the horse was a milestone in human history that allowed people, their languages, and their ideas to move further and faster than before, leading both to widespread farming and to horse-powered warfare.


Scholars from around the world have collaborated on a new inter-disciplinary research project, which was published in the journal Science 9 May 2018. The researchers analysed ancient and modern DNA samples from humans and compared the results – the 74 ancient whole-genome sequences studied by the group were up to 11,000 years old and were from inner Asia and Turkey.

Much of the study builds on questions raised by scholars of Indo-European studies at the Institute of Nordic Studies and Linguistics at University of Copenhagen. A number of conflicting theories have been presented about who first domesticated the horse, with previous studies pointing to people of the pastoralist Yamnaya culture, a dominant herding group who lived in Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

Dr. Guus Kroonen, historical linguist at University of Copenhagen, explains:

“The successful spread of the Indo-European languages across Eurasia has puzzled researchers for a century. It was thought that speakers of this language family played a key role in the domestication of the horse, and that this, in combination with the development of wheeled vehicles, allowed them to spread across Eurasia from the Yamnaya culture.”

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