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Benjamin Arbuckle


The domestication of the horse was one of the most important technological achievements of the ancient world and revolutionized strategies of subsistence exchange, interaction and warfare across the Old World. Although the history of horse domestication in the steppic regions of western Eurasia is slowly coming into greater focus, the origins of the domestic horse in the Near East continues to represent a major archaeological puzzle. Although it has long been acknowledged on geographic grounds that Anatolia may have played an important role in the transmission of domestic horses into the Middle East few data have been available to adequately test these hypotheses and the social and biological processes responsible for the origins of domestic horses in the Greater Near East remain obscure. With the support of the National Science Foundation, we are engaged  in multi-disciplinary, field and lab research at four sites in central Turkey aimed at providing the first comprehensive analysis of local traditions of equid exploitation and the subsequent emergence of domestic horses in Anatolia. We seek to build a detailed, diachronic, collaborative, multi-disciplinary, interpretive framework that will allow us to: (1) define the nature of the newly discovered, intensive exploitation of equids (including horses and hydruntines) on the Anatolian plateau, (2) rigorously evaluate the roles of autochthonous domestication and importation in the appearance of domestic horses in the region, and (3) contextualize equid hunting and herding in ancient Anatolia with a focus on understanding the social processes responsible for the origins of this transformative animal technology. These broad goals will be achieved through the recovery, dating, and analysis of zooarchaeological, paleobotanical, isotopic, and ancient DNA datasets from four sites in central Turkey dating from the Early Chalcolithic to the Iron Age (6000-1000 BC). This project provides the first opportunity for a comprehensive analysis of the social and biological processes responsible for the emergence of domesticated horses in the Near East and will contribute significantly to larger scientific issues including the process of animal domestication, the transmission of innovative technologies, and the history of equines, and will add to our understanding of the biodiversity of an important livestock species.