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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2021 / Historical management of equine resources in France from the Iron Age to the Modern Period

Sébastien Lepetz, Benoît Clavel, Duha Alioğlu, Lorelei Chauvey, Stéphanie Schiavinato, Laure Tonasso-Calvière, Xuexue Liu, Antoine Fages, Naveed Khan, Andaine Seguin-Orlando, Clio Der Sarkissan, Pierre Clavel, Oscar Estrada, Charleen Gaunitz, Jean-Marc Aury, Maude Barme, Nicolas Boulbes, Alice Bourgois, Franck Decanter, Sylvain Foucras, Stéphane Frère, Armelle Gardeisen, Gaëtan Jouanin, Charlotte Méla, Nicolas Morand, Ariadna Nieto Espinet, Aude Perdereau, Olivier Putelat, Julie Rivière, Opale Robin, Marilyne Salin, Silvia Valenzuela-Lamas, Christian Vallet, Jean-Hervé Yvinec, Patrick Wincker and Ludovic Orlando (2021)

Historical management of equine resources in France from the Iron Age to the Modern Period

Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 40.

Alongside horses, donkeys and their first-generation hybrids represent members of the Equidae family known for their social, economic and symbolic importance in protohistoric and historical France. However, their relative importance and their respective roles in different regions and time periods are difficult to assess based on textual, iconographic and archaeological evidence. This is both due to incomplete, partial and scattered historical sources and difficulties to accurately assign fragmentary archaeological remains at the proper taxonomic level. DNA- based methods, however, allow for a robust identification of the taxonomic status of ancient equine osseous material from minimal sequence data. Here, we leveraged shallow ancient DNA sequencing and the dedicated Zonkey computational pipeline to obtain the first baseline distribution for horses, mules and donkeys in France from the Iron Age to the Modern period. Our collection includes a total of 873 ancient specimens spanning 128 ubiquitous and the most dominant species identified, our dataset reveals the importance of mule breeding during Roman times, especially between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE (Common Era), where they represented between 20.0% and 34.2% of equine assemblages. In contrast, donkeys were almost absent from northern France as-semblages during the whole Roman period, but replaced mules in rural and urban commercial and economic centers from the early Middle Ages. Our work also identified donkeys of exceptional size during Late Antiquity, which calls for a deep reassessment of the true morphological space of past equine species. This study confirmed the general preference toward horses throughout all time periods investigated but revealed dynamic manage-ment strategies leveraging the whole breadth of equine resources in various social, geographic and temporal contexts.
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