Taylor and colleagues win DAAD research award to study the early history of horses in Australia

The project “Horses and Human Societies in New World Australia” will explore the impact that horses have had on the people and environments of Australia since their introduction.

Across the world, the domestic horse has had a profound and transformative impact on both people and environments. This is particularly true in Australia, where European settlers arrived astride domestic horses, and wild brumbies rapidly reshaped rural ecologies as they made their way into the Outback. Although Australia’s relationship with horses has been traditionally understood through the lens of history, in their new project William Taylor and colleagues seek to apply recent innovations in archaeological science to investigate this story in new ways.

Using an interdisciplinary approach, the project “Horses and Human Societies in New World Australia”, funded by the DAAD Joint Australia-Germany Research Cooperation Scheme for 2018, will apply cutting-edge techniques from archaeology, archaeozoology, and biomolecular science, to help identify horse bones in Australian archaeological assemblages.

Pairing radiocarbon dating and Bayesian statistical modelling of these remains with historical data, they will model the horse’s geographic spread, and placing it in ecological context. Other methods, including osteology and isotopic studies. will help Taylor and colleagues explore how equids were used by pastoral settler – how they were fed, bred, and traded. Partnering with specialists in ancient DNA at the University of Toulouse, the new project will also reconstruct the trade networks that brought horses to the Antipodes. Finally, the research team will seek to compare the results with new data from North America and Eurasia, to assess how and why horses influenced human societies in different ways across the New and Old Worlds.

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