Excavations at the Middle Bronze Age site of Tel Haror in Israel uncovered a metal bit in an equid burial dating between 1750 and 1650 B.C.E. It is the oldest extant bit ever found and would have been used to harness a donkey, according to Dr. Joel Klenck, the archaeologist and faunal expert who analyzed the remains. Klenck based his interpretation on the measurements of foot bones and signs of grinding found on the animal’s teeth.
This find, however, is not the first evidence for human-equine interaction. Third-millennium B.C.E. horse and donkey burials, among other finds, attest to the early domestication of both animals. Contemporary art in the Near East and Egypt shows horses and donkeys pulling chariots. The bit is significant because it the first direct evidence for the use of reins. Prior to its discovery, archaeologists had only assumed bits were used based on wear patterns on equine teeth, but the Tel Haror find begins to fill in the gaps in our understanding. When the reins were pulled, the lips of the animal would have been pressured by triangular spikes at either end of the bit.