Lecture: The Botai People (Listen and Read)

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Lecture: The Botai People
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We've recently gone over a number of ancient societies,
and looked at how they tamed animals like chickens or cows for food and other resources.
Today we'll be focusing on the Botai people.
The Botai people lived in central Asia,
what is now northern Kazakhstan, over 5000 years ago.
Everything we know about this ancient culture comes from three rich archaeological digs.
Unlike many western cultures at the time,
the Botai people were not nomadic,
but they didn't tend to farms or agriculture like many other sedentary peoples.
They built villages with hundreds of homes,
and we have a lot of evidence that they domesticated horses to aid them in their daily lives.
This would make sense,
because horses were native to the area,
and could withstand the rough climate.
Without a need for heated barns or terribly rich food,
the Botai people could rely on these horses for clothing, food, and transportation.
This also allowed them to settle, instead of being nomadic.
Were the Botai people the first ones to domesticate a horse?
No, horses had been domesticated a bit earlier,
and historians believe it was to the northeast, further into Russia,
where the first domesticated horses originated.
However, it's quite feasible that those people migrated southeast into what is now Kazakhstan,
either forming these Botai people or passing on their methods.
Couldn't the horse have just been hunted and killed?
How do we know the bones mean the horses were domesticated?
Like most history, there's no real way to be 100% certain.
However, we can deduce from the tools around the encampment,
that they kept some sort of large livestock.
We also found writing indicating that they drank milk.
Where would they get milk, if not from domesticated animals?
How would you milk a wild horse?
They'd probably kick you and run away.
The fact that we found horse bones in the encampment, and not other types of livestock,
suggests strongly that they had been domesticating the animals for years.
Unlike dogs, horses do not show signs of domestication very strongly.
Physically, at least.
Ancient horse bones themselves won't tell us much about domestication,
they won't have changed significantly enough from modern horse bone structure.
We have found, however, structures in the Botai villages that strongly resemble corrals or pens.
Not long ago, scientists took soil samples
and concluded that the earth inside those pens
had phosphorus concentrations ten times higher than the baseline.
What this means, is that large numbers of horses were being held in those pens.
Horse manure, you see, has high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen.
Nitrogen, being an unstable element, can easily wash away or decompose into the soil.
Phosphorus is a bit harder to get rid of, so it builds up in the soil
and leaves easily detectable traces as it fuses with the calcium and iron in the soil.
Since the Botai settlement soil has loads of Phosphorus in it,
we can conclude they had herbivorous livestock of some sort.
Double it up with the bones, and you have some pretty solid proof of horse domestication.
Later on, the Botai people became nomadic again, as they started herding sheep and cattle.
Those two species don't do well in cold environments,
so the Botai people had to travel southward during cold winters,
to make sure their livestock survived.
The kind of food and supplies that they gained by the hard work of travel was worth it, in their eyes.
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