A team of scholars, led by William Taylor of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, analyzed horse remains from an ancient Mongolian pastoral culture known as the Deer Stone-Khirigsuur Culture (ca. 1300-700 BC). Deer stones, with their beautiful deer carvings, and their accompanying stone mounds (khirigsuurs) are famous for the impressive horse burials that are found alongside them in the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands. Through careful study of skeletal remains from these burials, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society, Taylor and colleagues found that Deer Stone-Khirigsuur people began using veterinary dental procedures to remove baby teeth that would have caused young horses pain or difficulty with feeding — the world’s oldest known evidence for veterinary dental care.
Previous research has shown that these early herders were the first in eastern Eurasia to rely heavily on horses as livestock for food products, and may have been among the first to use horses for mounted riding. Drawing on insights from his Mongolian colleagues, Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan and Tumurbaatar Tuvshinjargal of the National Museum of Mongolia, Taylor argues that the development of horseback riding and a horse-based pastoral economy was a key driver for the invention of equine veterinary care. “We may think of veterinary care as kind of a Western science,” he says, “but herders in Mongolia today practice relatively sophisticated procedures using very simple equipment. This results of our study show that a careful understanding of horse anatomy and a tradition of care was first developed, not in the sedentary civilizations of China or the Mediterranean, but centuries earlier, among the nomadic people whose livelihood depended on the well-being of their horses.”
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