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Dr. Alan Outram

The senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Exeter, who is studying the domestication of the horse.



1 -    What is the single greatest change you have witnessed in the equestrian world during your life time?

As a zooarchaeologist, my focus has been on equestrian revolutions of the distant past such as the hunting of horses, their domestication and the origins of horse herding and riding.


2 -    Do you ride?

I have ridden, but, shockingly, I think it is true to say that I have eaten more horses than I have ridden!


3 -    Do you own a horse?

I have several reference skeletons in my collection, but no live ones Iím afraid.


4 -    Who is your favourite horse in history?



5 -    Who do you think was the most influential equestrian human in history and why?

I guess I would have to go for whoever it was who first mounted a wild horse, up until then a hunted wild animal, and started the whole of equestrianism off.


6 -    What was your greatest equestrian influence from books or cinema when you were young?

I always liked the scene in the epic film El Cid where Charlton Heston rides out of the castle to lead his forces in battle, though he has already died and is merely strapped to his steed.


7 -    What equestrian book would you recommend today and why?

I recently provided some advice for a book called Wind Rider by Susan Williams, which is aimed at children and imagines the very first taming and riding of horses in Central Asia.


8 -    How did you initially become interested in your specific equestrian specialty?

I initially had been studying horse hunting in the Ice Age and the use of horse meat and fat for food, which led on to consideration of the transition from hunting to herding.


9 -    What prompted you to enter that field?

I think it was a matter of spotting good new research opportunities where important questions about human/animal interactions still remained to be answered. The domestication of the horse was a pivotal moment, but many questions still need answering before we fully understand it.


10 -    Did someone encourage your decision or inspire you?

Dr Sandra Olsen invited me to join one of her expeditions to Kazakhstan to work on excavations of early horse herding villages. That was a great opportunity and changed the direction of my work.


11 -  When did you begin your research, investigation, work?

I started my work on horse hunting in about 1996, but by 2000 I was working in Kazakhstan on the origins of domestic horses.


12 -    What do you think is your most important discovery, achievement or insight regarding your equestrian work?

Other scholars, such as Sandra Olsen and David Anthony, had already made strong arguments for early domestic horses in the Botai Culture of Kazakhstan at around 3,500 BC. I have added various new lines of direct evidence for this, but most significantly, along with my chemistry colleagues, Richard Evershed and Natalie Steer, we have demonstrated that the Botai people were already drinking mareís milk at that early date. We demonstrated this through isotopic analysis of fat residues preserved in the fabric of prehistoric pottery from Botai. This was no easy task and it involved us collecting many modern reference samples of mareís milk and many other animal fats from the Kazakhstan region.


13 -    What modern technology, techniques and media have you found most helpful?

In our research we used some of the most advanced chemical technology to get our results.


14 -    What part of your work do you find most fulfilling?

Our research is very laborious and involves collecting and analysing lots of samples. During that time it is often not clear what our results will be, but when our results come there is something of a rush. I also enjoy working in the field and all the time I have spent traveling round Kazakhstan.


15 -    Whatís been your biggest disappointment in your work?

Most of my research has been very rewarding, but I wish I had more time to dedicate to investigating all the potential avenues of research there are regarding prehistoric horses in Central Asia.


16 -    How do you explain the gulf between academic equestrian investigation and the average horse owner?

I guess people are often too busy in their work to communicate properly. I think that is a general blight of modern life.


17 -    What equestrian subjects are in need of more research and investigation?

We still donít know if weíve identified the very earliest domestic horses, and we are also not sure if horses were domesticated in several different places independently. There is also something of a gap between the first evidence for domestic, ridden horses and the real explosion of equestrianism, mounted warriors and chariots in the Bronze Age. What happened in between? Why did it take off when it did?


18 -    Which part of the equestrian world would you like to see reformed and why?

Not really a question for me, I donít think.


19 -    How do you traditionally deliver your findings or message and how would you ideally like to do so?

We always maintain some presence on the web, but Iíve also done many interviews on early horse domestication for radio, press and magazines. Iím also happy to give lecturers to academic and non-academic groups alike.


20 -    What intellectual, technical or ethical advances would you like to see in the horse world?

Again, not one for me.


21 -    Do you foresee any difficulties for the horse world in the immediate future?

I donít think so.


22 -    What is the greatest challenge facing the horse world in the long term?

Again, not one for me to answer.


23 -     What books, magazines, websites, etc. can people read and review to learn more about your work?

The media have covered the story of horse domestication very thoroughly and there is lots of information on the websites of newspapers and science magazines. However, you can listen to a podcast about our work on the website of the Natural Environment Research Council, who funded our project:


24 -    Any final thoughts?


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