We have investigated mitochondrial (mt) DNA d-loop diversity, sex and coat colour using bones from 34 horses of different size from three Swiss sites (Mormont, Basel-Gasfabrik, Aventicum) most of them dating from 150 to 50 BCE.
The aim was to characterise the diversity of matrilineages and coat colourations of Iron Age horses, and to identify molecular sex.
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We detected eleven mt haplotypes clustering into six haplogroups (B, D, F, I, X2, X3) in the ancient dataset (n = 19).
Large individuals were all male, but smaller stallions were also identified; molecular sexing confirmed and augmented to morphological results.
Studies featuring ancient horse mt DNA suggest multiple domestications and an increasing diversity of female lineages from the Bronze Age onwards (Vila et al., 2001 and Cieslak et al., 2010).
Animals with unique colour variants may have been specially valued.
Apparently, geographic structuring is low today, and was so in wild horse populations, but there is also evidence that some matrilineages were regionally confined (Cieslak et al., 2010 and Lira et al., 2010).
Here we investigate horse remains, mostly with known withers heights, from three key Late Iron Age sites in Switzerland where Roman cultural influence is noticeable in the archaeological record.
We explore mitochondrial d-loop variation, molecular sex and coat colour markers of 32 Late La Tène and two Roman time horses.
Studies of modern horse mt DNA diversity have revealed an intricate phylogenetic structure.
Based on 616 base pairs six major haplogroups were defined (Vila et al., 2001 and Jansen et al., 2002).
The horses were bay, chestnut and black in colour, and spottings or dilutions were absent in all animals.