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The Holocene distribution of wild horses in Europe (completed)

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Dr. Ulrich Schmölcke

Eurasian wild horses (Equus ferus Boddaert, 1785) were, due to their morphology, ecology and physiology, adapted to life in grassy landscapes. Nevertheless, they survived the colonisation by forest of large areas of their former distribution at the end of the Weichselian Ice Age. A team of researchers is investigating the extent of, and reasons for, the survival of the species, and the time of its later disappearance.

Wild horse

European wild horses have to this day retained an aura of mystery.

The wild horse was a common species at the end of the Ice Age. As numerous finds of bones from a wide range of sites show, the distribution area for this predominantly grass-eating animal comprised large parts of the northern hemisphere and extended from Western Europe, across the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, to Northern America. In contrast to other grazing animals, such as mammoth and Irish elk, populations of wild horses also survived, at least regionally, the climatic and the consequent vegetation changes which occurred around 9600 BC. Mapping of the Post-Glacial evidence from the Pre-Boreal to Sub-Boreal periods will provide information concerning the areas of Europe where survival was possible, and will be used to investigate the significance of these animals as quarry for the hunting peoples of the time. The interpretation of the findings may also reveal the proportion Europe’s Mid-Holocene vegetation made up of open largely forest-free areas, as linking together of archaeozoological and vegetation-historical data also forms part of this study. The project involves colleagues from the universities in Tallinn and Kiel, as well as from the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut in Berlin.

Map wild horses

The map shows sites from the Late Atlantic period with bones of wild horse.

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