Archeological evidence that an ancient society was domesticating animals including horses 9,000 years ago, 4,000 years earlier than previously thought, has been unearthed at Al-Maqar in central Saudi Arabia.
Named the Al-Maqar civilization, around 80 artifacts have been collected from the site, including mummified skeletons, spinning and weaving tools, and statues of animals such as ostriches, falcons, and a one-meter-tall bust of a horse. A horse burial has also been discovered.
Ali al-Ghabban, vice president of Antiquities and Museums at the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities (SCTA), said these findings challenge the theory that animal domestication took place 5,500 years ago, which is based on previous excavations in Central Asia.
“A statue of an animal of this dimension, dating back to that time, has never been found anywhere in the world,” Ghabban said, according to the Saudi Gazette.
The remains were found in a valley that was formerly a riverbed, close to Abha, in southwestern Asir province near the Yemen border, an area once known as Arabia Felix.
"The antiquities proved that Al-Maqar was the oldest place in the world so far with people interested in horses," an official statement said, adding that the artifacts also showed the cultural activities of people in the region during the Stone Age.
Ghabban said these people used “methods of embalming that are totally different from known processes,” the Gazette reported.
"This discovery will change our knowledge concerning the domestication of horses and the evolution of culture in the late Neolithic period,” he said.
“The Maqar Civilization is a very advanced civilization of the Neolithic period," he added. "This site shows us clearly, the roots of the domestication of horses 9,000 years ago.”
Ghabban said DNA tests and carbon dating had confirmed the age of the excavated artifacts.
An international team of archeologists published an article in Science in January suggesting humans may have been present on the Arabian Peninsula as long as 125,000 years ago.