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World’s Oldest Evidence of Horse Dentistry Found In Mongolia

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The earliest practice of horse dental care, most popularly known today as equine dentistry, took place in Mongolia more than 3,000 years ago, a study has revealed.

Teeth Fossils Found In Burial Sites

A team of researchers analyzed teeth fossils acquired from the horse remains found in burial sites associated with the Deer Stone-Khirigsuur culture, an ancient Mongolian pastoral culture that existed in Bronze Age Mongolia around 1300-700 B.C.

Around that time, the ancient people in Mongolia already performed some dental surgical procedures on horses using stone tools. They initially wanted to remove teeth that may cause young horses to experience pain and difficulty when feeding. Later on, dental procedures were done so horses can efficiently function during warfare.

The most interesting finding from the study, however, was that these ancient people were already extracting the animals' "wolf teeth," a practice that is still being done only by professional equine dentists at present.

Bronze Age Horses

The researchers, headed by William Taylor from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, found the remains of two Bronze Age horses that have sideways incisors. Their teeth were also partially sawn-off. They also found traces of silicate on the teeth, indicating that they were hacked off using stone tools.

The study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 2 also noted that ancient Mongolian herders began the practice of wolf teeth extractions around the middle of the first millennium B.C. In general, wolf teeth grow in the spot where horses bite their mouthpieces connected to the harnesses that humans hold and control when riding the animals.

The wolf teeth extraction during the ancient Mongolian times was done so that young horses will not get hurt when humans ride them during harnessed riding. The people also adapted the practice almost simultaneously when bronze and metal mouthpieces for the horses were introduced. Horse mouthpieces with harder materials were used to give riders the advantage during ancient warfare.

At present, professional equine dentists extract the wolf teeth from domesticated horses because the teeth hurt the animals when they get in contact with their mouthpieces.

Equine Dentistry's Origin

Furthermore, Taylor noted that herders in Mongolia at present are still able to perform sophisticated dental procedures using simple equipment.

"We may think of veterinary care as kind of a Western science... These results of our study show that a careful understanding of horse anatomy and a tradition of care was first developed not in the sedentary civilizations of China or the Mediterranean, but centuries earlier, among the nomadic people...," Taylor said.

"Importantly, this work also identifies these dynamic innovations as emerging from pastoral nomadic communities, groups that have often been marginalized in both contemporary and past narratives," said Robin Bendrey, an archeologist from the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the study.

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