The world’s oldest riding saddle discovered in Xinjiang

Archaeologists in Xinjiang discovered the grave of an adult woman who lived in the first millennium B.C., with a well-preserved leather saddle on her pelvic bones. Radiocarbon dating of the object showed that the saddle was dated between 727 and 396 B.C. Thus, the find represents one of the world’s oldest riding saddles, and possibly the oldest.

History of horseback riding

In a recent study, anthropologists determined that some of the carriers of the Yamnaya culture engaged in horseback riding about five thousand years ago. However, this practice could not spread widely until people invented horseback riding equipment. Thus, an important technical innovation was the appearance of the horse saddle among nomads.

The most ancient riding saddles were found by archaeologists on the monuments of the Scythian circle of cultures. Especially many valuable finds come from monuments of Pazyryk culture, which existed in the Altai in the 1st millennium BC. This is due to the fact that the Pazyryk barrows often contain permafrost, which has brought to the present not only mummified bodies, but also rare artifacts of organic materials. The earliest of the Pazyryk saddles are dated to about 430-420 years B.C. and come from the Tuektinskiy kurgans, excavated in the Ongudai region of the Republic of Altai.

A new find

Patrick Wertmann of the University of Zurich, together with colleagues from Great Britain, Germany, China, Russia, and Switzerland, presented the results of a study of ancient saddles found in Xinjiang. One of them archaeologists found in the Yankhai burial ground, located about 43 kilometers from the city of Turfan, where artifacts made of organic materials are preserved due to very arid conditions.

Thirty centimetres deeper than this burial was another grave in which an adult woman was lying in a crouching position. Her clothes and shoes were partially preserved. In addition, on her pelvic bones lay a leather saddle, in which the deceased appeared to have been seated after her death.

Direct radiocarbon dating of this find showed that it was made between 727 and 396 B.C. (archaeologists tentatively dated the burial to the 7th and 4th centuries B.C.). Thus, this saddle may represent the oldest such product known today, or at least created at approximately the same time as the saddles from the Tuekti mounds. At the same time, the researchers noted that an even more ancient saddle may have been preserved in the south of the Tarim basin, but its age is still doubtful.

Significance of the find

The discovery of the ancient saddle allows us to deepen our knowledge about riding techniques and the development of horse equipment in antiquity. In addition, it indicates that people already in those times used horses for transportation and, possibly, for hunting.

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