Category Archives: BULGARIA

World’s 1st horseback riders swept across Europe roughly 5,000 years ago

World’s 1st horseback riders swept across Europe roughly 5,000 years ago

The world’s first horseback riders swept across the steppe roughly 5,000 years ago, a new skeletal analysis of tombs across Europe and Asia reveals.

A Yamnaya grave of a male horse rider found in Malomirovo, Bulgaria. He died between the ages of 65 and 75.

Archaeologists accidentally discovered the world’s earliest horseback riders while studying skeletons found beneath 5,000-year-old burial mounds in Europe and Asia, a new study finds.

The ancient riders were part of the so-called Yamnaya culture, groups of semi-nomadic people who swept across Europe and western Asia, bringing the precursor to the Indo-European language family with them.

The findings strengthen the hypothesis that the horse played an integral part in the expansion of this group, and therefore, in the spread of the Indo-European language.

The new analysis came from 217 human skeletons from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, a geographical area that runs roughly from Bulgaria to Kazakhstan. For decades, researchers have debated when horses were domesticated.

In Kazakhstan, 5,000-year-old horse skeletons show wear on their teeth that could have been from bridles, while others have found possible fenced enclosures.

In the same time period, horse milk peptides have been detected in the dental plaque of people from Russia. Importantly, the geographical explosion of the Yamnaya culture — which expanded across 3,000 miles (4,500 kilometers) over a mere century or two — suggests horses may have assisted as transportation animals.

A map of the Yamnaya and Afanasievo distribution in Eurasia about 5,000 years ago.

So archaeologist Martin Trautmann of the University of Helsinki in Finland and his colleagues collected data on six diagnostic skeletal traits that have been collectively called “horsemanship syndrome.” Since bone is a living tissue, it responds to stresses placed on it.

Consistent horseback riding can cause trauma and spine degeneration, but it can also result in more subtle changes to the leg and hip bones as the human body adapts to regular riding.

In the skeletons from 39 sites across Eastern Europe, Trautmann and colleagues found that two dozen had at least half of the traits of horsemanship syndrome. 

They are most confident, however, about the identification of five Yamnaya culture individuals hailing from what is now Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary as likely equestrians. 

“Our findings provide a strong argument that horseback riding was already a common activity for some Yamnaya individuals as early as 3000 [B.C.],” they wrote in their paper.

The Yamnaya people didn’t ride Przewalski’s horses, but these hoofed animals are likely close to what ancient horses looked like in terms of appearance, color and size.

An archaeologist at the University of Vienna, told Live Science in an email that she is “excited about their research.” However, Bühler, who has studied horsemanship syndrome but was not involved in this work, was concerned about the researchers’ ability to measure changes to the hip sockets given the poor state of conservation of many of the bones. “Because two major traits are missing, I feel that caution is required in interpreting the evidence,” she said.

Most of the skeletons were in such poor condition that horsemanship couldn’t be analyzed. Taking that into account, however, “we guess that more than 30% of male adult Yamnaya individuals were riding frequently,” Trautmann  in an email.

The remains of a horse rider found in Malomirovo, Bulgaria. He had a Yamnaya-style burial, and radiocarbon dating puts him in the 30th century B.C.

A biomolecular archaeologist at the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, who was not involved in this study,  in an email that the researchers’ findings about the Yamnaya are interesting but “not surprising considering their vast Early Bronze Age expansions.” Expanding so quickly and spreading their genes over such a vast area would have been difficult without horses.

Although skeletons with horsemanship syndrome are rarely found, their identification by archaeologists gives us new information about what it was like to live on the eastern steppe five millennia ago.

“For now,” Trautmann said, “it seems riding was mostly a male activity, probably connected to herding, and training probably started early.”

Ancient dental plaque sheds new light on the diet of Mesolithic foragers in the Balkans

Ancient dental plaque sheds new light on the diet of Mesolithic foragers in the Balkans

The study of dental calculus from Late Mesolithic individuals from the site of Vlasac in the Danube Gorges of the central Balkans has provided direct evidence that Mesolithic foragers of this region consumed domestic cereals already by c. 6600 BC, i.e. almost half a millennium earlier than previously thought.

The team of researchers led by Emanuela Cristiani from The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge used polarised microscopy to study micro-fossils trapped in the dental calculus (ancient calcified dental plaque) of 9 individuals dated to the Late Mesolithic (c. 6600-6450 BC) and the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition phase (c. 6200-5900 BC) from the site of Vlasac in the Danube Gorges. The remains were recovered from this site during excavations from 2006 to 2009 by Dušan Borić, Cardiff University.

“The deposition of mineralised plaque ends with the death of the individual, therefore, dental calculus has sealed unique human biographic information about Mesolithic dietary preferences and lifestyle,” said Cristiani.

“What we happened to discover has a tremendous significance as it challenges the established view of the Neolithization in Europe,” she said.

“Microfossils trapped in dental calculus are a direct evidence that plant foods were an important source of energy within Mesolithic forager diet. More significantly, though, they reveal that domesticated plants were introduced to the Balkans independently from the rest of Neolithic novelties such as domesticated animals and artefacts, which accompanied the arrival of farming communities in the region”.

These results suggest that the hitherto held notion of the “Neolithic package” may have to be reconsidered. Archaeologists use the concept of “Neolithic package” to refer to the group of elements that appear in the Early Neolithic settlements of Southeast Europe: pottery, domesticates and cultigens, polished axes, ground stones and timber houses.

This region of the central Balkans has yielded unprecedented data for other areas with a known Mesolithic forager presence in Europe. Dental tartar samples were also taken from three Early Neolithic (c. 5900-5700 BC) female burials from the site of Lepenski Vir, located around 3 km upstream from Vlasac.

Although researchers agree that Mesolithic diet in the Danube Gorges was largely based on terrestrial, or riverine protein-rich resources, the team also found that starch granules preserved in the dental calculus from Vlasac were consistent with domestic species such as wheat (Triticum monococcum, Triticum dicoccum) and barley (Hordeum distichon), which were also the main crops found among Early Neolithic communities of southeast Europe.

Domestic species were consumed together with other wild species of the Aveneae tribe (oats), Fabaeae tribe (peas and beans) and grasses of the Paniceae tribe.

These preserved starch granules provide the first direct evidence that Neolithic domestic cereals had already reached inland foragers deep in the Balkan hinterland by c. 6600 BC.

Their introduction in the Mesolithic societies was likely eased by social networks between local foragers and the first Neolithic communities.

Archaeological starch grains were interpreted using a large collection of microremains from modern plants native to the central Balkans and the Mediterranean region.

“Most of the starch granules that we identified in the Late Mesolithic calculus of the central Balkans are consistent with plants that became key staple domestic foods with the start of the Neolithic in this region” said Cristiani.

Anita Radini, University of York added, “In the central Balkans, foragers’ familiarity with domestic Cerealia grasses from c. 6500 BC, if not earlier, might have eased the later quick adoption of agricultural practices.”

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.