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1 September 2011
Evidence of early horse domestication in Arabia

Saudi officials say archaeologists have begun excavating a site that suggests horses were domesticated 9,000 years ago in the Arabian Peninsula, 4,000 years earlier than previously thought. The vice-president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities said the discovery at al-Maqar challenged the theory it first took place 5,500 years ago in Central Asia. Ali al-Ghabban said it also changed what was known about the evolution of culture in the late Neolithic period.
     The remains of the civilisation were found close to Abha, in southwestern Asir province, an area known to antiquity as Arabia Felix. The civilisation, given the name al-Maqari, used " methods of embalming that are totally different to known processes," Mr Ghabban said.
     Among the remains found at the site are statues of animals such as goats, dogs, hawks, and a metre-tall bust of a horse. "A statue of an animal of this dimension, dating back to that time, has never been found anywhere in the world," Mr Ghabban said.
     The remains were found in a valley that was once a riverbed, at a time when the now-arid Arabian Peninsula was more humid and fertile, the official said. An international team of archaeologists published an article in January that suggested human beings could have been present on the Arabian Peninsula about 125,000 years ago.
     A number of artefacts were also found, including arrowheads, scrapers, grain grinders, tools for spinning and weaving, and other tools that showed the inhabitants were skilled at handicrafts. Mr Ghabban said carbon-14 tests on the artefacts, as well as DNA tests on human remains also found there, dated them to about 7000 BCE.
     Although humans came into contact with horses about 50,000 years ago, they were originally herded for meat, skins, and possibly for milk. The first undisputed evidence for their domestication dates back to 2000 BCE, when horses were buried with chariots. By 1000 BCE, domestication had spread through Europe, Asia and North Africa.

Edited from BBC News, The Asian Age (26 August 2011)

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