An international team of archaeologists has uncovered a remarkably preserved wooden frame saddle with iron stirrups in an ancient Mongolian tomb, according to Live Science.
This groundbreaking discovery, detailed in a recent study published in the journal Antiquity, suggests that the Eastern Steppe, particularly Mongolia, played a crucial role in the early development and spread of frame saddles and stirrups.
The tomb, located near the province of Khovd in Mongolia’s western region, became known as the “cave of the equestrian” after police discovered it had been looted in 2015. Among the confiscated artifacts were a birch saddle painted black and red, an iron bit, wooden archery equipment, and the mummified remains of a male domestic horse.
Through DNA testing and radiocarbon dating, researchers confirmed that the human remains belonged to a man, and the burial, including the saddle, dated back to approximately 420 CE.
The significance of this finding lies in the saddle’s age, making it the oldest known frame saddle globally. William Taylor, an archaeologist from the University of Colorado Boulder and a study author, told Live Science that the development of a rigid frame that could support a suspended stirrup was a watershed moment, unlocking a range of possibilities for riders. This innovation allowed for enhanced stability, standing up while mounted, and ultimately, a considerable advantage in medieval warfare.
The researchers propose that the Eastern Steppe, where nomadic cultures thrived, played a pivotal role in the early adoption of frame saddles and stirrups. The study suggests that Mongolian steppe communities were closely tied to key innovations in equestrianism, influencing the conduct of medieval warfare.
However, the domestication of horses during this period came at a cost, as evidenced by the skeletal remains of the Urd Ulaan Uneet horse. The animal showed signs of bit-related dental damage and changes to nasal bones, common injuries found in horse burials across Central and Eastern Asia.
While the tomb earned its name as the “cave of the equestrian,” researchers emphasize that horse riding was not exclusive to men. Taylor believes that both men and women likely regularly rode horses in the Eastern Steppe from the earliest appearance of these animals.
The discovery also prompts further investigation into whether wooden frame saddles were invented in the Eastern Steppes. The researchers advocate for future work, especially in areas of East Asia with exceptional organic preservation, to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the origins of this transformative equestrian technology.