The Botai culture is an archaeological culture (c. 4300–3100 BC) of ancient Kazakhstan. It was named after the settlement of Botai in Aqmola Province of Kazakhstan. The Botai culture has two other large sites: Krasnyi Yar, and Vasilkovka.
The site of Botai is located on the Iman-Burluk River, a tributary of the Ishim River. The site has at least 153 pithouses. The settlement was partly destroyed by the steeply eroding river bank which is still occurring and by management of the wooded area.
The occupations of the Botai people were connected to their horses. Some researchers state that horses were domesticated right here by the Botai. It was once thought that most of the horses in evidence were probably the wild species, Equus ferus, hunted with bows, arrows and harpoons. However, evidence reported in 2009 for pottery containing mare's milk and of horse bones with telltale signs of being bred after domestication have demonstrated a much stronger case for the Botai culture as a major user of domestic horses by about 3,500 BC, close to 1,000 years earlier than the previous scientific consensus. This does not necessarily mean they were the first to domesticate horses, but makes them the earliest known candidate. Marsha Levine (1999) concludes that the hypothesis that horse domestication spread from west to east, i.e., from Dereivka to Botai, is erroneous.
The pottery of the culture had simple shapes. Most of it was gray in color, and it was unglazed. The decorations are geometric, including hatched triangles and rhombs as well as step motifs. Punctates and circles were also used as decorative motifs. Sites of the Botai type and of the related Tersek type contain 65–99.9% horse bones, indicating that the meat diet came almost exclusively from horses.
The bearers of the Botai culture have been tentatively identified (apart from the equally plausible option that whatever language they may have spoken has long since become extinct) either with Indo-Europeans or speakers of the Proto-Turkic language.
Asko Parpola believes that the language of the Botai culture cannot be identified with any known language or language family. He speculatively suggests that the Proto-Ugric word *lox for "horse", reconstructed on the basis of Hungarian ló, Mansi lū and Khanty law, all meaning "horse", whose origin is unclear and which does not closely resemble any of the words for "horse" from known Eurasian language families, is a borrowing from the language of the Botai culture.
Current research is being conducted by Alan Outram of Exeter University in association with other institutes, the Bristol (UK), Winchester (UK) and Kokshetau (Kazakhstan) universities and the Carnegie Museum. Along with students, Outram conducted a magnetometer survey of the Botai site in 2008 and is looking into conducting further research into the Botai culture's role into the development of horse domestication.
- 'Animal Style' and Shamanism. Problems of Pictoral Tradition in Northern Central Asia. Burchard Brentjes. Berlin.
- Outram, Alan K.; et al. (6 March 2009), "The Earliest Horse Harnessing and Milking", Science 323: 1332–1335, retrieved 2010-12-27
- Jeannine Davis-Kimball CSEN Review article: Late prehistoric exploitation of the Eurasian steppe. By Marsha Levine, Aleksandr Kislenko and Nataliya Tatarintseva with an introduction by Colin Renfrew. Cambridge, England: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. 1999. 224 pp.
- "Carnegie Museum of Natural History: Sandra Olsen". Carnegiemnh.org. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
- Peter Bogucki, Pam J. Crabtree. Ancient Europe. 8000 B.C. – A.D. 1000. Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World. 2004. Volume 1: The Mesolithic to Copper Age. Late Neolithic/Copper Age Eastern Europe: Domestication of the horse. pp. 363–368. ISBN 0-684-31421-5.
- Карл Молдахметович Байпаков: Археология Казахстана, 2006, p.40
- See also Uralic Etymological Database
- Parpola, Asko (2012). "The problem of Samoyed origins in the light of archaeology: On the formation and dispersal of East Uralic (Proto-Ugro-Samoyed)". In Hyytiäinen, Tiina; Jalava, Lotta; Saarikivi, Janne et al. Per Urales ad Orientem. Iter polyphonicum multilingue. Festskrift tillägnad Juha Janhunen på hans sextioårsdag den 12 februari 2012 (PDF) . Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 264. Helsinki: Finno-Ugrian Society. pp. 295f. ISBN 978-952-5667-33-2. Retrieved 25 January 2015.