Accepted Paper:

Human-horse apprenticeship, interpersonality and bonding: tattoos as narratives of belonging in the Pazyryk world  


Gala Argent (Animals Society Institute)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the Iron Age South Siberian co-burial of humans and horses by the people of the Pazyryk archaeological culture as a rich case study through which to examine the impacts of the intersubjectivity and interpersonality reported between the rider and the ridden horse on issues of identity and narratives of belonging.

Paper long abstract:

The historical record and epic poetry passed down orally from the mid-first millennium BCE Eurasian steppes include the exploits of not only human heroes, but also of their named equine companions. Throughout these narratives, horses emerge as sentient partners who perform thoughtful actions for the better of the pair. They are memorialized as heroes in their own right.

Further east during the same timeframe, the Pazyryk archaeological culture of Iron Age Southern Siberia left no such written or oral records. However, excavations of Pazyryk burials have yielded not only a wealth of artifacts but also, due to preservation in permafrost, the bodies and clothing of co-interred humans and their caparisoned riding horses. Where the human skin is preserved, many Pazyryk bodies show tattoos representing an extensive bestiary of real and imaginary animals, previously interpreted as representing entirely abstract human cosmological concerns.

Using a relational, phenomenological and inside auto-ethnographical approach to human-horse interactions, this paper examines the apprenticeship process through which humans and horses each learn the practice of "riding." Here, the human-ridden horse intersection can be viewed as one of bi-directional learning, interpersonality, and reciprocal empathy. In light of these aspects of human-horse relations, I argue that some of the tattoos found on these human bodies have been misidentified as theriomorphs, and instead represent actual, biographical horses. I conclude that the Pazyryk horse tattoos represent compelling narratives of belonging through which biographical horses were honored, and identities of humans and horses within the community were blended and fused.

Panel P14
Understanding humans understanding horses: constructed and co-created cultures