Horse dentistry 3,000 years ago 'linked to warfare and globalization'

    Mongolian herder removing first premolar, or wolf tooth, from a young horse during the spring roundup using a screwdriver.

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    (CNN)More than 3,000 years ago on the open steppes of Mongolia and eastern Eurasia, nomadic herders were experimenting with equine dentistry.

    However, the practice did a lot more than just alleviate horses from pain -- in fact, researchers argue it was here where horses were transformed into a tool that drove globalization.
      A new study carried out by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has found that the world's oldest known evidence of horse veterinary dental care was carried out by the Deer Stone-Khirigsuur Complex, a culture that existed between 1300-700 B.C.
      William Taylor from the institute led a team of scholars who carefully analyzed horse skulls from ancient burial areas on the Mongolian steppe. The impressive horse burials -- from which the nomadic people take their name -- consist of megaliths with intricate carvings, as well as large mounds made out of stone.
      Horse skulls sit atop an ovoo, or ritual stone cairn, outside the city of Murun in Mongolia.
      Researchers found that herders were experimenting with equine dentistry by sawing down their horses' teeth with stone tools if they were growing out of place and would often pull out baby teeth if they were causing foals pain or difficulty while feeding.
      "We found the oldest direct evidence of veterinary dentistry and veterinary care and that's interesting in itself but this is the latest finding in a series of studies looking at this Deer Stone-Khirigsuur culture which has been very poorly understood for a very long time," Taylor told CNN.
      More than that, he says, the team has found that veterinary care is "directly linked" to the origins of horseback riding and herding in the region.
      The skull of a ritually-sacrificed horse from Bayankhongor, central Mongolia.
      According to the study, the findings are significant because it counteracts previous theories that veterinary care was a "western science" developed by civilizations in China or the Mediterranean -- but instead by nomadic people centuries earlier.
      "A tradition of care was first developed ... centuries earlier among the nomadic people whose livelihood depended on the well-being of their horses," Taylor explained.
      "It speaks to a very sophisticated understanding of not just horse anatomy, but horse behavior and the fascinating thing about this time period is we see all kinds of cultural changes linked around horses ... they bury them in special burial mounts along the edge of their big ritual site, we start seeing horses popping up in these elaborate, beautiful carvings on the stones -- horses began to intrude into the artwork and the religious cognitive mindset in a major way."

      From a tool used by herders, to a tool of warfare

      Researchers also found that innovation in veterinary care helped facilitate developments in horse control technologies. It was around this time, that leather mouthpieces were being replaced with bronze and iron bits.
      Not only was the team able to identify skeletal changes which are related to bridling and heavy exertion, but also noted that almost every horse that was examined were missing their vestigial wolf teeth -- which are similar to human wisdom teeth.
      Taylor, with the help of his Mongolian colleagues, found that the nomadic herders had begun removing the vestigial teeth -- just like veterinarians still do to this day -- because of the pain and sensitivity that horses can experience when metal bits rub on the wolf teeth.