First mules came to Central Europe with the Romans

(ORDO NEWS) — Analysis of tooth bones and DNA isolated from ungulate remains found in Roman and Celtic settlements in Central Europe showed that the Romans were the first to bring mules to the region. Before that, the only riding animal of the local peoples was a horse.

Until the end of the Iron Age, the Celts who inhabited the northern Alpine foothills bred horses exclusively. These animals, which were mainly used during the war, were highly valued, and only the nobility could afford them.

Shortly before the birth of Christ, the Romans settled the northern regions of the Alps, with them they brought mules from the Mediterranean.

Horse and donkey hybrids were used as pack and working animals and were valued for their strength, endurance and ability to move efficiently through the mountains. In addition, mules were less fastidious about food than horses, and were less likely to get sick.

Until now, the beginning of the economic and military use of mules by peoples living in the north of the Alps has caused controversy among scientists.

Even experts find it difficult to accurately distinguish the remains of horses, donkeys and their hybrids, mules and hinnies, from each other. Most parts of the skeleton of the animals of this family are too similar.

Now scientists from the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich (Germany) and the University of Vienna (Austria) have analyzed DNA samples isolated from the remains of more than 400 members of the Equidae family, found in one Celtic and seven Roman settlements in the northern provinces of the Roman Empire, in the territories of modern South Germany, Eastern Switzerland and Austria.

Scientists compared the results of genetic analysis and traditional methods of species identification by morphology, shape and size of the teeth of the lower jaw and individual bones. It turned out that the remains of mules were present only in Roman settlements.

Thus, it was the Romans who were the first to start breeding mules in Central Europe. In addition, studies have shown that mules can be accurately identified not only by their DNA, but also by the features of small molars – premolars.

Often, accurate identification of horse-donkey hybrids depends on access to skeletal collections that allow comparison with archaeological finds.

DNA is not always well enough preserved in the remains to accurately determine the type of animal. Therefore, the creation of diverse collections of natural history is also necessary for the study of the cultures of the past.


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