Demographic profiles and ancient horse use in Bronze Age Mongolia

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Demographic profiles and ancient horse use in Bronze Age Mongolia


Note: This presentation won 1st Place in the 2014 Junior Researcher Open Zooarchaeology Prize competition.

About the resources: The resources shared here include a series of slides with descriptive text. The 3D pdf shows a horse skull recovered from the site of Khushuutin Gol in North-central Mongolia. It was recovered from a large burial mound along the E/SE edge of the monument site. Study of dentition indicates that it is likely male, and very old (at least 20 years). Grooving on the medial edge of the naso-incisive bone suggests that it was heavily exerted, while lateral grooves may indicate bridling. Finally, a depression along the top of the nasal bone may indicate chronic strain from a noseband. This specimen and others like it provide archaeozoological evidence that horses were used for transport in Mongolia's late Bronze Age. 

Abstract: This paper investigates the use of the horse in Mongolia’s late Bronze Age Deer Stone-Khirigsuur (DSK) complex (1300-700 BCE). Several lines of archaeological evidence suggest that DSK people were equestrian herders, a possibility that has important implications for our understanding of early mobile pastoralism and the spread of the domestic horse. However, because ritual horse inhumations form the primary source of material remains from this period, there is some doubt as to whether horses were managed or used for transport in DSK society. To assess this question, we produced demographic (age and sex) estimates for a sample of 25 horses from deer stone and khirigsuur monuments, analyzing each specimen for cranial transport pathologies. Demographic data support the idea that DSK managed and bred horses, but raise new questions about the presence of middle-aged adult males which cannot be explained by the economic requirements of pastoralism. Archaeological analogy suggests that in antiquity, such horses (particularly geldings) were often preferred for transport and selected for ritual interment. The adult males in the DSK sample were found in larger, interior horse mounds along the eastern edge of DSK monuments, pointing to special ritual treatment. These specimens also yielded the highest cranial transport pathology values, indicating that they were likely bridled and more heavily exerted than other horses. These results support the hypothesis that adult males were used for transport in DSK society, and point to a sophisticated knowledge of equine ecology in the Eastern Steppe as early as 1300 BCE. Moreover, they suggest that combining cranial pathology data with demographic analysis may be a particularly promising method for understanding horse use in other prehistoric contexts.


TAYLOR William (1), BAYARSAIKHAN Jamsranjav (2), TUVSHINJARGAL Tumuurbaatar (2)


(1) University of New Mexico,
(2) National Museum of Mongolia


William Taylor, Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan, and Tumuurbaatar Tuvshinjargal

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William Taylor, Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan, and Tumuurbaatar Tuvshinjargal. "Demographic profiles and ancient horse use in Bronze Age Mongolia," in BoneCommons, Item #1975, (accessed September 19, 2020).


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File: Taylor- Open Zooarchaeology Slides ICAZ 2014.ppt

File: Taylor- Open Zooarchaeology text.doc

File: Khushuutiin Gol.pdf