‘A game-changer’: prehistoric ‘matchy-matchy’ horse and rider gear found from 35,000 BC

  • Excited archaeologists have made a “game-changing” discovery of the earliest recorded use of “matchy-matchy” horse and rider gear, dating from about 35,000 BC.

    Since a mummified baby mammoth from about the same time was found in northwest Canada two years ago, excavations have continued in the area as weather allows, and yesterday (31 March) it was confirmed that there had been another major find.

    At a press conference this morning, expedition leader Dr Rob Graves, of the Advanced Prehistoric Research Institute Laboratory, said that at least one mummified body was first spotted early in March, and that after extensive and careful work, it was confirmed that a horse and rider had been found.

    “This was a startling discovery,” Dr Graves said. “There have been finds before, of mammals that have become trapped in permafrost, but nothing as complete as we’ve got here. This is a game-changer.”

    It is the permafrost that preserves the organic matter, Dr Graves confirmed, but it is rare that bodies have been so little affected by the passing of thousands of years. In this case, not only the equine and human hair was still present, but also the horse and rider’s gear.

    “The most exciting bit of the find is that the primitive tack and clothing worn by both can still be clearly seen,” he said. “We have never seen a saddle or bridle from this early in history. But even more interestingly, it is clear that there has been a major attempt at coordination.”

    Dr Graves explained that a pad underneath the basic saddle was made of sabre-tooth tiger’s skin. The remains of fur wraps are present on three of the horse’s legs, and on both ears under the bridle.

    “DNA testing has shown us that the skin is from the same tiger, and the stripes show that it has been cut so the pattern lines up exactly, so the leg wraps, saddle pad and ear covers match, as does the thin shirt that can still be seen on the rider,” he said. “This is a major anthropomorphological find as it was not known that humans of this period would have used leg protection or ear bonnets on their horses – or that they would have taken such care to make them match.”

    Dr Graves joked that he would have to keep the find secret from his daughter April, who competes in dressage and has a growing collection of matching saddlecloths, base layers, bandages and ear bonnets.

    “This was probably the first ever rider and horse to wear matchy gear – but it certainly wasn’t the last!” he said.

    A spokesman for LeMieux told H&H the find has inspired its 2024 autumn/winter collection.

    “We can’t say too much yet but there will be a strong sabre-toothed tiger influence in this year’s new releases,” he said. “Think stripes and teeth – and maybe even echoes of a mammoth or two. Keep your eyes peeled!”

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