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A Horse Story

1 April 2023
Archaeology, Biology, Genetics

At https://phys.org/news/2023-03-untold-history-horse-american-plains.html … an untold story of the horse in the American plains. Horses, it is claimed, first emerged in the Americas – and millions of years of evolutionary changes transformed the horse before it became the companion of humans. An international team has reformed the history of the American horse, and embeds cross disciplinary and cross cultural research. See https://doi.org/10.1126/science.adc9691 .. or https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.adc9691

It seems the indigenous peoples claim horses were part of their life – before the arrival of other cultures to their lands. Is this a reference to the Anglo newcomers – or to their Spanish predecessors? Were horses descended from the lost horses of Spanish expeditions – or were they already present in North America? This comes via Chief Joe American Horse, a leader of the Oglala Lakota Oyate, a traditional knowledge keeper and co-author of the study. It all began with Dr Yvetter Running Horse Collin whose Ph.D was based on deconstructing the accepted history of horses in the Americas. Up until that point, the field was dominated by Western academics, and indigenous voices were ignored.

They sought out French scientist Ludovic Orlandes and his team of geneticists, who went on to extract ancient DNA molecules – sequencing the genome of several hundred horses that lived thousands of years ago. Other scientists sought out horse bones in the more recent archaeological record – together with Lakota, Comanche and Pawnee collaboraters. They found evidence that horses were raised, fed, and cared for as well as ridden by indigenous people, as early as the 17th century. C14 methodology proved horses were present across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains by the early 17h century, from AD1600 onwards. It must have taken some time for them to be established. The date disproves the theory indigenous horses were descended from escapees in 1680 – always a lame idea for independently minded people. However, the genome evidence does show many of the Plains horses were primarily of Iberian [Spanish] ancestry. They were not directly related to horses in the Americas during the Late Pleistocene period. Bang goes one theory and the fact the other theory has to be revised to an earlier date puts paid to both. Neither were the horses descended from those used by the Vikings in Greenland or Newfoundland. It is therefore likely horses were being raised and used by indigenous peoples after AD1600 and suggests their origin is in the 15th century – not long after the Spanish arrived in the Americas, and presumably with a link to Spanish colonies of the SW. Comanche oral tradition seems to support this fact.

Genome analysis also showed that the Iberian ancestry became diluted over time with British bloodlines, reflecting the further colonisation of North America. It will be interesting to find out, at some point in the future, what role other Sioux tribes, and the Nez Perce, played, and how old their associations with horses might be.

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