According to a study, people may have started using horses as mounts around 5000 years ago. This was indicated by typical traces of skeletal remains in some of the 24 people examined from the so-called Yamnaya and neighboring cultures from today’s Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, as a research team reports in the journal Science Advances. It is possibly the earliest known evidence of the use of horses as mounts.

According to the scientists, the first evidence of the domestication of horses – probably for meat and milk production – is around 5500 years old. According to current knowledge, horses were used to pull chariots from about 4000 years ago, and possible first pictorial evidence of riding on a horse or donkey is also known from that time.

Using horses as mounts made it easier to travel great distances and facilitated exploration, cultural exchange, and trade, as well as warfare and migration. But when did humans get on horses? Early equipment is rarely preserved and traces of horse skeletons are controversial, the researchers explain.

The team led by Martin Trautmann from the University of Helsinki is now looking for changes and fractures in human remains, especially in the femur, vertebrae and pelvic bones, which typically occur in long-time riders. Nine of the people examined had probably ridden regularly. “Taken together, our results provide a strong argument that horseback riding was a common activity for some Yamnaya people as early as around 5,000 years ago,” the team writes.