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The Evolution of Horses

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of horses, the extinction of those in the New World in the Ice Age, and their domestication after crossing the land bridge into Asia.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of horses, from their dog sized ancestors to their proliferation in the New World until hunted to extinction, their domestication in Asia and their development since. The genetics of the modern horse are the most studied of any animal, after humans, yet it is still uncertain why they only have one toe on each foot when their wider family had more, or whether speed or stamina has been more important in their evolution. What is clear, though, is that when humans first chose to ride horses, as well as eat them, the future of both species changed immeasurably.


Alan Outram
Professor of Archaeological Science at the University of Exeter

Christine Janis
Honorary Professor in Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol and Professor Emerita in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University


John Hutchinson
Professor in Evolutionary Biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

50 minutes

Last on

Thu 27 Feb 2020 21:30


John Hutchinson at the Royal Veterinary College

Christine Janis at the University of Bristol

Alan Outram at the University of Exeter

‘The horse series’ by Christine Janis, 2007

‘The Evolution of Equid Monodactyly: A Review Including a New Hypothesis’ by Christine Janis and Raymond Bernor - Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2019

‘Fossil Horses: Evidence for Evolution by Bruce J. MacFadden’ – Science, 2005

‘The Mechanics of Horse Legs’ by Milton Hildebrand - American Scientist, 1987

Fossil Horses: Systematics, Paleobiology, and Evolution of the Family Equidae - Bruce J. MacFadden

Mechanics of evolutionary digit reduction in fossil horses (Equidae) by McHorse, B. K., Biewener, A. A., & Pierce, S. E. - Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017

‘Equids’ by Ludovic Orlando - Current Biology, 2015  

Warhorse: The Archaeology of a Military Revolution? – University of Exeter

The makeup of the modern horse: A history of the biological changes introduced by human management – PEGASUS Project



David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (Princeton University Press, 2010) 

Willem Back and Hilary Clayton, Equine Locomotion (Saunders Ltd, 2013)

Stephen Budiansky, The Nature of Horses: Their Evolution, Intelligence and Behaviour (W&N, 2009)

Susanna Forrest, The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History (Atlantic Books, 2017)

Jens Franzen (trans. Kirsten M. Brown), The Rise of Horses: 55 Million Years of Evolution (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010)

Pita Kelekna, The Horse in Human History (Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Bruce J. MacFadden, Fossil Horses: Systematics, Paleobiology, and Evolution of the Family Equidae (Cambridge University Press, 1992)

Peter Mitchell, Horse Nations: The Worldwide Impact of the Horse on Indigenous Societies Post-1492 (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Alan K. Outram and Amy Bogaard, Subsistence and Society in Prehistory: New Directions in Economic Archaeology (Cambridge University Press, 2019), especially ‘Chapter 8: Horse Domestication and the Origins of Pastoralism in Central Asia’ by Alan Outram

Brian Regal (ed.), Icons of Evolution: An Encyclopedia of People, Evidence and Controversies (Greenwood, 2007), especially ‘The Horse Series’ by Christine Janis

Wendy Williams, The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion (Scientific American, 2016)



  • Thu 27 Feb 2020 09:00
  • Thu 27 Feb 2020 21:30

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