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Monday, October 20, 2008

Around the Web: European UP people and dogs

Magdalenian Faces.-
Tim at remote central, makes a nice review of the Magdalenian portraits of La Marche and other sites, their history and their striking modernity.

Aurignacian dogs.- Several blogs touch this issue recently: I found it first at but Dienekes and John Hawks also adress the matter of ancient domestic dogs. It seems that Aurignacian people already had dogs and that these were alredy somewhat different from their wild ancestors (wolves).

In relation with these issues, I'd thank if anybody could provide some nice info on the forgotten issue of Magdalenian domestic (?) horses. Anticipated thanks.


Tod said...

If I understand your post correctly, from what I have read there were no domestic horses (or reindeer), I think the Magdalenian people got about on foot.
Is the period you are referring to covered by this:- Peter Frost reveiws Desolate Landscapes: Ice-Age Settlement in Eastern Europe

Maju said...

Take a look at this image, please. There are some more. To me they clearly depict horses with reins. Skeptics have argued these would be the facial muscles but it seems a very far-fetched explanation to me (as the Spaniards say: "grabbing a burning nail").

This issue remains not satisfactorily explained so far.

Tod said...

Possibly the first horses to be tamed were of a type of a that was unsuitable, being too small for example. The practice of keeping them being time consuming and expensive could have been abandoned. The first modern sized saddle horses were from what is now Iran. acording to C.Coon

Maju said...

I don't know: the Magdalenian horse images have reins on them and I guess that such elements could only be used for riding. Besides, you can't probably tame and herd horses without riding them because they are just way too fast.

Large ponies are also rideable anyhow, not just by kids, and Magdalenian time horses were not as small as to totally impede that.

There are native large (rideable, akin in size to ancient wild horses) pony races in other parts of Europe (like Britain) but maybe it's worth mentioning the traditional Basque Pottoka, that is nearly extinct due to cross-breeding but looks much like the ones depicted in this artwork. It's large enough (1.25m to withers, stocky) to be riden by adult humans.

IF Paleolithic Europeans had both dogs (what now seems proven and mainstream) and horses (still controversial), they would have many advantages in travel and hunting (and even in tribal wars). But it could also mean that other peoples of Eurasia could have such "pets" as well. Certainly that's the case with the dog thiugh overall the horse seems only to have become mainstream in Middle Eurasia (Eastern Europe, Central Asia) in the Early Chalcolithic, while Sumerians about that time were still limited to onagres (Asian wild donkeys) to pull their heavy 4-weeled war chariots. I wonder if it's possible that horse domesticaton went from West to East, even if the maximization of the potential of these beasts only happened once it reached the Middle Eurasian steppe and maybe some other larger kind of horse was domesticated or bred.

A lot of speculaton in this, I know, but the horseheads with reins are genuine in any case.

Tod said...

C.Coon mentions the onagers as an attempt to us an unsuitable animal and also mentions the small pony-like horses ridden by ancient Greeks so it could be done as you say.
The lack of a saddle tree and stirrup would make riding tough on the horse and precarious for the rider though. Keeping a mare and foal fed and sheltered though the year would take up a lot of scarce resources so I think it would have been a very rare thing.

Maju said...

Saddle and stirrup are late inventions. Romans did not know the latter, for instance, which is (AFAIK) a Germanic developement (that allowed cavalry charges, what lead to heavy cavalry). People were in any case riding horses long before these inventions.

As for feeding the animals, I am not any expert in horse herding at all, but I guess that they would use mostly natural pastures. While migrating to new pastures along the seasons (transhumance) may have been an issue, it's also true that most of their usual prey (including wild horses) would also move to those habitats, so maybe it was a natural thing to do.

Tod said...

Reindeer hunters’ settlements
Subsistence strategies and economy in the
Magdalenian of the Paris Basin, France

Part 2

Maju said...

Any relevant passage you want to highlight in that paper? I don't get the relevance, even if it's an interesting technical paper.

Tod said...

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) can be hunted in a variety of ways (Burch 1972; Spiess 1979). One is
the opportunistic encounter of single animals or small groups on their summer or winter ranges,
such as any other territorial game. [...} reindeer as a resource for hunters depends on how they position themselves in the landscape relative to the migration pattern of the reindeer
herds. Further, the economic organisation of subsistence for the acquisition, processing and
consumption of meat will be largely determined by that landscape position. For example, a group of hunter/gatherers such as the Netsilik Eskimo
(Balikci 1970) on the northern tundra has access to herds during the summer. At that time, the herds
are broken down into small bull or cow/calf bands which are widely dispersed so that hunter/prey
encounters tend to be opportunistic and unpredictable over time and space. An appropriate strategy for increasing the probability of encounter is the dispersal of hunters in small bands and individual hunts over a large
territory, precluding larger scale cooperative hunting. The likelihood that all hunters from a
given camp would be simultaneously successful is small, so that successive reciprocity in game
sharing provides a buffer against variable success rates. Further, the quantity of game brought into a
camp at any one time should be relatively small, and meat can be consumed immediately.

At some times of the year the hunters would have to move camp and then cover a lot of distance to find the prey, carrying it back to the camp would be exausting. They would have an very big incentive to tame animals for transport.

Maju said...

I see your point now, thanks.

Of course, the Inuit do that without horses (though they do use dogs). I recall that there is an ethnic group of Siberia (Altai/Tuva area) that uses large reindeer as mounts and cargo animals in a rather unusual fashion, but I don't know for how long they have been doing it (may be a "recent" Neolithic developement).

I suspect that the ecological range of horses and reindeers do not overlap much (different diets and cold resistence) but certainly horse riding would have meant a huge advantage for hunter-gatherers in search of other mobile prey, like horses themselves, bisons or aurochs.