Native Americans had horses very early
Native Americans of the Great Plains of North America owned horses much earlier than previously believed. The horse was already “deeply integrated” into their way of life in the first half of the 17th century, before they came into contact with European settlers in their region.
This writes a large group of American researchers in the review Science. Researchers, who include anthropologists, geneticists, zoologists, and representatives of the Lakota, Comanche, and Pawnee natives, draw on archaeological and genetic research and native oral traditions.
Historians often assume that Spanish horses spread to the American Southwest in the century after the conquest of Mexico (1521) – escaped, traded or plundered. The indigenous peoples of the northern plains would not have had horses until the end of the 17th century. Nomadic groups such as the Comanches would have been drawn south by the presence of horses there.
The horses available to Native Americans were of Spanish origin
In Science the researchers, led by an anthropologist from the University of Colorado at Boulder, now push those dates back more than half a century. According to archaeological and genetic data, horses were also kept and used in the northern plains no later than the first half of the 17th century. According to researchers, the Comanches also owned horses before migrating to present-day Texas.
The introduction of the horse sparked an economic and cultural revolution among the native peoples of the plains between Missouri and the Rockies. The mobility of horse-riding peoples such as the Comanche and Lakota increased not only their hunting yields, but also their military and political strength.
Yet the basis for the researchers’ conclusion that the horse was assimilated very early into the native communities of the northern plains still seems quite narrow. This mainly consists of examining the remains of three or four horses that could be dated between 1597 and 1657: a foal buried in Wyoming, a skull from Kansas, skeletons from New Mexico and Idaho.
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Nevertheless, combined with other archaeological knowledge and oral traditions, researchers see sufficient reason to believe that the indigenous peoples of these regions tamed and used horses long before their contact with Europeans. This is consistent with the desire to “decolonize” Native American history and the desire to emphasize the power of Native American cultures. Colonial sources on the horse are often “full of inaccuracies” and “anti-Native bias”, according to the researchers.
Paleontologists speculate that horses existed in North America during the Pleistocene, but died out from natural causes and possibly over-hunting by humans. That the last native horses are of Spanish origin (and not of northern European origin) is also indisputable in this study: DNA research confirms it.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on March 31, 2023
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