Name Meaning: Horse (this type commonly called the tarpan)
Estimated Range: Eurasia and Americas
Locations found: North Sea (calcaneus and metacarpal)
Geologic Era: Pleistocene
Size: 1-1.5 meters tall
Extinction Date: Late Pleistocene (in the Americas); survived in Eurasia to 1909
We have two bones from primitive horses, though they were not associated. The metacarpal was obtained in York, England in 2005, while the calcaneus was obtained in Tintagel, England in 2014. The metacarpal was dredged from the North Sea; I am not sure exactly where the calcaneus came from (though it was found in England). Both are in very good condition, especially the metacarpal, given the location of its recovery.
The horses that once possessed these bones were rather different from the domestic horses of today. Generally speaking, they were shorter and stockier than modern animals, with more bristly manes and dull colored coats. Like modern domestic horses, they tended to travel in herds, and could fight ferociously when provoked. Probably the closest animal alive today that resembles these ancestral horses is Przywalski’s horse, though they are a heavily endangered species, only recently reintroduced back to the wild. The more probable ancestor (or close ancestor) of the modern horse would be the tarpan, or Eurasian wild horse. It is likely that our horse fossils came from a tarpan. Tarpans only went extinct in 1909, though they had been in decline for several millenia prior.
Wild horses existed nearly worldwide (except Australia and Antarctica). Horses were present in North America up until around 10,000 years ago, but later went extinct. Horses were later reintroduced to the North American continent by Europeans starting in the late 1400’s. The “wild horses” that roam some of the western United States are not true wild horses; rather, they are feral descendants of domesticated horses. True wild horses on either continent would have had to contend with predators such as big cats, wolves, hyenas, and humans.
Conflict with humans is what ultimately caused the extinction of the tarpan. Tarpans were known to break into hay storage and mate with domestic mares, which produced very undesirable, difficult to train foals. Habitat clearing also reduced the areas where tarpans would roam. The last wild tarpan was killed in Russia in 1879, and the last captive tarpan died in a Russian zoo in 1909. There are no confirmed photographs of a tarpan, though a few drawings, such as the one above, exist.
Horse Coat Colors: By DFoidl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25694840
Tarpan Foal: By Borisov – http://www.petermaas.nl/extinct/speciesinfo/tarpan.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=185580