Scientists unearth earliest evidence of ancient equine vet care

Photo by John Stampfl

Being an equine vet is a tough job. It takes years of schooling and experience to get there, and a whole lot of expert knowledge to master the role. Now, new archaeological evidence has shown that although our ancient ancestors had fewer drug and disease names to learn, they still provided their horses with more veterinary care than previously known.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History took a side trek from humans to examine horse remains found in Mongolia. These remains belong to an ancient pastoral culture called the Deer Stone-Khirigsuur Culture, which existed between 1300 and 700 B.C.E.

The researchers discovered the oldest evidence of veterinary dental care in the world. The Deer Stone-Khirigsuur people used veterinary dental procedures to remove baby teeth from young horses, likely to alleviate pain and feeding difficulty.

The culture is already associated with horses — in the many ruins of burial mounds the society left across the Mongolian steppe, dozens to thousands of horses were laid to rest alongside their masters. Horses were used as livestock for food products, and this culture was among the first to practice horseback riding.

The research team also concluded that, over centuries, ancient horse caretakers stepped up their methods to keep up with new technologies, like metal bits that aggravated the vestigial “wolf tooth,” allowing for greater control of horses in warfare and transportation.

“In many ways, the movements of horses and horse-mounted peoples during the first millennium B.C.E. reshaped the cultural and biological landscapes of Eurasia,” said Nicole Boivin of the Max Planck Institute. “(This) study shows that veterinary dentistry — developed by Inner Asian herders — may have been a key factor that helped to stimulate the spread of people, ideas, and organisms between East and West.”

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