Botai: Early Horse Herders on the Steppes of Northern Kazakhstan 

Since 1993, Sandra Olsen, former Curator of Anthropology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, has conducted archaeological fieldwork in northern Kazakhstan (Fig. 1). Dr. Bruce Bradley was Co-Director with Olsen, and Dr. Alan Outram was Assistant Director during the 2000–2002 expeditions. Bradley and Outram are both from the Archaeology Department at Exeter University. The goals of these joint Kazakh, American, and British expeditions are to study early horse domestication and recreate the lifestyles of the Botai culture horse pastoralists who lived 5,500 years ago (Fig. 2).


Fig. 1 Excavations of a house pit at the Botai site of Vasilkovka  


Fig. 2 Kazakh breed of horses on the steppe in northern Kazakhstan  

These recent investigations of the Copper Age Botai culture (3700–3100 BCE) reveal an unusual economy focused primarily on horses. The Botai culture is now seen as a crucial source of information for documenting horse domestication, one of the most seminal developments in human history. It provides the optimal case study for this elusive achievement because Botai sites are located in the heart of the native geographic range of the Tarpan, or European wild horse, Equus ferus, and date to the fourth millennium, sometime soon after it is thought horse domestication began (Fig. 3).

Moreover, the Botai based their whole economy on the horse, and their large, permanent settlements have yielded enormous collections of horse remains. As a result, Botai sites provide an ideal opportunity for developing a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to research questions surrounding horse domestication.


Fig. 3 Tarpan; illustration by Daniel Pickering  


1. Introduction
1.1 Horses and Humans
1.2 The Botai People
1.3 Recent Excavations
2.1 Paleoenvironment of Northern Kazakhstan 5,500 Years Ago
2.2 Sedentary Horse Pastoralism
 3.1 Mapping whole villages with remote sensing
3.2 Reconstructing Botai house structures
3.3 Other Fauna
 4.1 Ceramic Tradition
 4.2 Stone Technology
 4.3 Bone Artifacts
 4.4 Shell Beads
5 Death and the Botai
6.1 Kazakh Archaeology Student Training Program
6.2 Institutional Collaboration and Funding
6.3 Recommended Readings 

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