Yes world, there were horses in Native culture before the settlers came
February 4, 2020 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Horse history was purposely distorted. “We have calmly known we've always had the horse, way before the settlers came. The Spanish never came through our area, so there's no way they could have introduced them to us," reads one quote from a Blackfoot (Nitsitapi) study participant in Collin’s doctoral study. [...] The dissertation posits that the discrepancy between the Spanish “reintroduction” theory and the story reflected by current evidence has to do with a cultural bias that is still present within Western academia. Collin theorizes that because horses were a symbol of status and civilization in Spain during that time, and because conquerors needed to illustrate the Native people as savage and uncivilized to justify their conquest to the Queen of Spain, the truth about the relationship between Native peoples and the horse was purposefully distorted.
posted by stoneweaver (54 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty much with EZM in the comments. If the horses she is taking care of have ancestry from the ancient horse of the Americas, then it should be easy to see in their DNA.
posted by tavella at 10:08 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]

From the article:

"In the dissertation, Collin compiles a list of fossil and DNA evidence which dates after this supposed “extinction” period."
posted by PMdixon at 10:10 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth: a detailed critique, admittedly from a non-Native perspective.

I'm not an archaeologist or paleobiologist, so I'm not equipped to evaluate the substance of the arguments here, but there are some serious scholarship issues involving Collin's use of secondary and tertiary rather than primary sources, extreme fringe sources (e.g. an author that "actively promotes the notion that Native Americans are the descendants of white Mormons"), and selective quotations. I found those issues alone to be persuasive, though the critique also covers the substance.
posted by jedicus at 10:16 AM on February 4 [18 favorites]

There were extensive trade routes in existence long before Europeans arrived. Considering how widely corn traveled after its initial domestication doesn’t it seem like horses would have been traded just as extensively?. Native people’s were smart enough to develop so many technologies and food systems that horses being an introduced species doesn’t take anything away from their material cultures. If horses had been here and been domesticated they wouldn’t have been kept a local secret. Anyone as smart as the Aztecs or the Inca with such developed material cultures would have met the Spanish with mounted cavalry.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 10:16 AM on February 4 [8 favorites]

For what it's worth: a detailed critique, admittedly from a non-Native perspective.

Also, among the physical evidence Collin presents for pre-contact horses are the Blythe Intaglios, a set of geoglyphs near Blythe, California in the Colorado Desert. Two of these are of quadrupeds that are generally accepted to be mountain lions. They certainly don’t resemble horses other than being quadruped.

OK so I'm looking at those and they look like horses to me and nothing like mountain lions. There is some interesting stuff in that link and also a lot of "you're wrong because we all agree on something else" which is...sort of her point.

The sort of absurdity of treating the oral tradition of archeologists about what things "represent" or "when they are from" as "science" or "evidence" while treating the authors' cited oral traditions as "not evidence" is not lost on me.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:29 AM on February 4 [24 favorites]

Here's a photo of what that critique says is 'clearly a mountain lion' and not a horse

I looks nothing like a mountain lion. The head is elongated, mountain lions have short square heads. The legs are elongated too, and super skinny. Mountain lions are short and squat; they have thick legs. The fact that archaeologists have decided that things that look like this represent mountain lions is strange.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:35 AM on February 4 [18 favorites]

Oh and sorry to multi-comment but mountain lions have really long tails that go past their feet; they sort of drag (not sure how to say it), and they look longer than their legs. Whereas that depiction has a tail that stops around the mid-leg.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:39 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]

This is all super interesting, but also I now feel bad about using the introduction of horses as my main obvious example of how Native cultures changed between 1492 and the 1800's (just because we have a tendency as to consider the Native cultures static over ridiculous amounts of time, and obviously they weren't)

With the Inca specifically - their entire empire was in the mountains, horses wouldn't exactly be an advantage there. IIRC, a lot of the eastern part of North America was mostly using waterways for transit - horses wouldn't be a help there, either.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:44 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]

"Anyone as smart as the Aztecs or the Inca with such developed material cultures would have met the Spanish with mounted cavalry."

I started reading "An Indigenous People's History of the United States" just last night, and in the description of the meeting between Cortes and the Aztecs, it states that the Aztecs had never seen a horse before.
posted by COD at 10:52 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]

I wonder what the La Brea Tar pits have to say about this.
posted by bq at 10:53 AM on February 4 [9 favorites]

It's not impossible that horses survived the great die-off of megafauna in the Americas, but so far there's been no solid physical evidence of them. And there's a strong political narrative that makes me suspicious of claims in the absence of physical evidence.

Archaeologists have found human remains going back tens of thousands of years in the Americas; if there were horses, wouldn't they have been discovered as well?
posted by suelac at 11:01 AM on February 4 [10 favorites]

There is a small group of "striped donkeys" down near Monument Valley, Utah. When you look at the archeology of fossil horses, and drawings of them from Southern Utah, they look just like these currently living animals. The "striped donkeys" are wild. Lehi Utah, farther north.

There is also a group of what look like Aurochs, or at least antedeluvian cattle, they are also self sustaining, inhabiting a spring area, mostly white in color.

I listened to a number of non Native Americans from the area, consistently contradict the oral histories of Native Americans. I would say, "They know their history," they would adopt an academic tone and continue with their contradictions. This while collecting federal monies for their "expertise"...
posted by Oyéah at 11:03 AM on February 4 [7 favorites]

The author of "An Indigenous People's History of the United States" is not Native, and plenty of critiques have been written about it by the people covered in the book. You may want to approach it with a critical eye.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:06 AM on February 4 [16 favorites]

Wow, that critique was condescending.

"Collin begins her dissertation with a clear chip on her shoulder for so-called “mainstream academia” and “Western science.” There is no “western” science. There is science. The methods of which work regardless of where you are geographically or what your ethnicity is."

This completely sidesteps the fact that science is practiced by human beings, who often are racist and come to conclusions that support their own ingrown biases rather than the data... Look at phrenology or physiognomy, for example. Claiming that the scientists own bias doesn't impact that work is dangerously naive at best. Claiming that Western science doesn't exist is the most pseudoscientific part of this thread!
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 11:07 AM on February 4 [21 favorites]

It's quite clear to me that even with academic credentials anything that challenges a white supremacist view of history is going to be treated with condescension and racism. Going and picking out one comment in the original article to back you up while ignoring the others, including ones that link to other supportive scholarship is quite a move.

You have the opportunity to see the world with new eyes and to challenge the history books you absolutely KNOW were written from a racist perspective. Why are you so invested in Natives being savages who were civilized by Europeans?
posted by stoneweaver at 11:11 AM on February 4 [9 favorites]

I found some sources (e.g., Bureau of Land Management, archived National Geographic article) claiming that the intaglios represent Mastamho, a Mohave creator deity, and his companion Hatakulya, a mountain lion, but I'm not an expert and I couldn't determine where the claims originated.

Here's a Smithsonian article about the 130kyo mastodon bones near San Diego that Collin mentions. "Carved by human hands" may be an overstatement; the researchers claim that the bones were broken by a person with a rock. Wikipedia mentions some critiques, and I think the evidence is a little slight, but it would be remarkable if it turned out to be accurate.
posted by ectabo at 11:12 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]

Didn't know there were so many horse scholars on MetaFilter.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:40 AM on February 4 [14 favorites]

The thing that kills me about Metafilter is how everyone thinks three minutes on google is equivalent to work done by experts with access to resources beyond Wikipedia and training and time. That is not to say that we should trust all products of the academies with equal faith and uncritical eyes. But to say "well I found an article on Google that supports established claims that this scholar is challenging" as if to say therefore their scholarship is obviously refuted is just the height of hubris.

The choice to do this specifically with regard to scholarship by Natives and not when some computer scientist presents their crank theory on how quantum physics works is perhaps unsurprising, but it is disappointing.
posted by arabidopsis at 11:53 AM on February 4 [28 favorites]

[Hi folks, please bear in mind that knee-jerk skepticism about this kind of work can have racist baggage you probably don't intend, and for this reason, it's a good idea for members of dominant groups to be really extra careful and self-reflective in receiving and assessing work like this.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:55 AM on February 4 [19 favorites]

Anyone interested in digging into this question should probably read her dissertation rather than the summary in the article. Particularly if you intend to evaluate the critique, which is clearly based on the actual paper.
posted by Lame_username at 11:55 AM on February 4 [15 favorites]

Repeatedly, oral histories have turned out to be accurate and informative. It is frustrating how routinely oral histories are dismissed so casually despite the amount of information they contain, only for there to be belated recognition once written or archaeological evidence is found. There was an FPP just the other day about a shipwreck off the coast of Oregon where (yet again) oral histories turned out to be accurate, for a minor example of this.

It’s not that oral histories are infallible, but at this point my assumption is that a lot of the knee jerk skepticism is implicitly (if not intentionally) racist.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:23 PM on February 4 [9 favorites]

Anyone as smart as the Aztecs or the Inca with such developed material cultures would have met the Spanish with mounted cavalry.

It seems to me that the jump from "they were smart and had a culture of developed materials" to "they would obviously have felt the need to militarize every asset at their disposal" is pretty loaded with modern western cultural assumptions.
posted by solotoro at 12:25 PM on February 4 [29 favorites]

Huh. What an interesting idea!

One thing that must be noted with respect to DNA evidence is that there has been massive disruption of traditional indigenous livestock breeding, and in fact we have well-documented cases of Anglo-American governmental attempts to disrupt and force Indigenous groups to breed horses in ways that they (Anglos) think horses ought to be bred. For example, following their dispersal to Idaho, the Nez Perce (who were at the time, famous and revered horse breeders across the entire United States) were forced to crossbreed their horses to draft horses with (government-imposed) goal of creating farm horses and disrupt the indigenous ways of life.

I haven't read the DNA evidence section of the dissertation yet, which I imagine is going to be focused on skeletal equine remains, but this is very specifically something I think needs to be firmly noted with respect to existing equine populations and especially in the context of the history of the Appaloosa breed of horses, which is its own complex and tangled story. When we talk about extant breeds of domestic animals, we have to pay attention to this history of forcible dispersal of Indigenous breeding histories and traditions and understanding the ways that domestic breeds of animal have subsequently changed and adapted.

And of course, that change happens in part because the animals of Indigenous peoples are no more static across time than their owners. For twenty-five years now, the Nez Perce have been trying to breed back to the historical descriptions of what the horses that became the Appaloosas were like before control of their livestock was seized by the US government. This has taken the form of crossing to Russian Akhal-Tekes, who are similar light horses bred for travel across long distances. So the current Nez Perce horse, despite being more in line with the nation's desires and preferences in horses, might not necessarily carry a particular signature in its DNA even if historical horses did.

Anyway, that is something of a derail; I'm going to go back to reading the parts of the dissertation that I have the skill set to think heavily about, but I'm sure the authors have already foreseen this issue. I mention it only because I have noticed that many biologists tend to think that modern breeds of animals have been preserved like insects in amber, untouched by time, just as many people tend to think of Indigenous peoples as relics of another time and place rather than constantly adapting peoples. Thank you for sharing this!
posted by sciatrix at 12:25 PM on February 4 [30 favorites]

If the information presented in the critique is accurate, I do think that it is problematic (to say the least!) to cite blog posts or fringe websites in one's dissertation.

I won't say that she's wrong. I will say that in absence of a very substantial amount of well-documented evidence, it is an extremely tough case to argue. I will add that I have not seen anything convincing yet.

(And no, biologists do not treat animals as if preserved in amber; I don't know what biologists you are talking to, sciatrix, but they're the wrong ones! Everyone I ever worked or trained with was acutely aware of continual change and adaptation, the very fact that genetics are inconstant rather than immutable is the reason the modern field of biology exists.)

Of note, with respect to oral histories - several of the horse origin stories she includes as appendices start out with a variation on "Back before horses in the time when dogs were used instead..."
posted by caution live frogs at 12:33 PM on February 4 [14 favorites]

caution live frogs: I am a biologist, and I work in Ecology/Evolution/Behavior. Every biologist I have ever spoken to coming from this background and considering working with breeds or lines of domestic animals has made the casual assumption that pure breeds, particularly in dogs (but not always), have been genetically isolated from all other sources of DNA back to the furthest time that a breed association claims them to have originated. This is confounded by the fact that many breed fancies claim exotic origins for domestic breeds of animal, which may or may not be supported by good historical evidence.

A specific incident I can recall is a very bright and much more senior to me gentleman who once proposed in a lab meeting that we study the effects of population bottlenecks over time by comparing modern breeds of dog (I believe his example was Labrador Retrievers) with "ancient" breeds of dog such as the Pharoah Hound, which "has been isolated since ancient Egypt". But the Pharoah Hound is derived from a fluid Mediterranean landrace, involving significant gene flow between that population and other types of dogs, and in any case the specific population of the dogs that became our modern Pharoah Hound hails from Malta, not Egypt at all.

When I say that biologists tend to take oversimplified histories of modern breeds for granted without investigating them in detail, I am speaking from significant personal and professional experience. I can continue to provide examples, but this feels like a derail.
posted by sciatrix at 12:43 PM on February 4 [18 favorites]

It's frustrating to read posts like this if you come from a background in archaeology or anthropology. The racism at the core of both disciplines is something to answer for and make reparations for, both in the literature and for pop culture stereotypes that have made their way to the mainstream.

At the same time, that doesn't give every person from a non-dominant cultural background carte blanche to put their traditional beliefs in the context of science, without also abiding by the falsification standards of science.

One other example I have seen of this has been from a native activist trying to argue against the out-of-Africa theory of human genetic origin. Because, according to native tradition, her ancestors had "always been there." From the standpoint of cultural anthropology, self-determination, and political activism for native people, I think I understand what motivates the desire to question mainstream human biology on this topic.

But the alternative worldview being advocated, in which all of Earth's people don't come from a common African ancestor? If that were true, it would completely upend pretty much all of human biology, all our paleontological, archaeological, and genetic understanding of the movement of human populations over the past 100,000 years. I'm not willing to set that aside solely on the basis of tradition.

In the dissertation being discussed here, the author cites as-yet-uncompleted genome sequencing for Old- and New-World horse species, which could potentially answer the question of whether North American horse populations have multiple genetic lineages (one from the recent Old-World colonization, and one from the older indigenous horse populations she is arguing persisted rather than going extinct). She says she hopes for this sequencing to be completed soon, to answer some of the extant questions.

But she also talks in her dissertation about her personal spiritual experience of being healed by horse medicine, and of receiving a mystical understanding of the truth of her hypothesis directly from another realm.

My question is: should the genetic testing falsify her hypothesis, will she change her view? Or does her spiritual and mystical knowledge outweigh the empirical evidence?

Is it a case of, where the scientific evidence confirms the tradition, it's correct? But when the scientific evidence disputes the tradition, it's wrong? How does this apply equally to many traditions with many different worldviews that might conflict with each other?

At the end of the day I think we're dealing with some irreconcilable differences in our conceptions about what the truth is and what it's for, and what role science has in determining it. And I don't think that can be reduced to mere white supremacy.
posted by MetaFilter World Peace at 12:53 PM on February 4 [62 favorites]

I don’t have the knowledge to engage deeply with the thesis, but I don’t think her thesis is particularly extreme, and she evidently convinced her thesis committee of her research and rigor, so I tend to side with her with the information in the FPP. For what that’s worth, which isn’t much.

What I am bothered by is the approach by some of the comments in the thread that the presence or absence of horses would disprove or prove the “savagery” of Indigenous Americans, because the word “savagery” is racist bullshit. As far as I know, there is no evidence that the Aztecs had any beasts of burden, but they had amazing textile skills, complex agriculture, elaborate architecture, etc. The cultures further north had their own complex material cultures, based on the natural resources available to them and the pressures and needs of their differing environments and societies. They lacked much of the metallurgy of the Europeans (and gunpowder), but that’s an accident of history and resources, not “savagery.” (Plus, the European’s big advantage was disease, which doesn’t seem so superior to me.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:11 PM on February 4 [5 favorites]

Are you speaking of the link in the post, or in this thread? I consider myself pretty much in agreement with Metafilter World Peace above, but unless some comments were deleted, I didn't note any use of the term savagery, or even something that would have come across as such in anything but an uncharitable read.
posted by tclark at 1:18 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]

"Savage" is used in the FPP text.
posted by LionIndex at 1:31 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]

Horse history

Obviously this is a controversial subject, but surely we can all agree on "horsetory"...?
posted by The Tensor at 1:46 PM on February 4 [15 favorites]

At the same time, that doesn't give every person from a non-dominant cultural background carte blanche to put their traditional beliefs in the context of science, without also abiding by the falsification standards of science.

I teach epistemology and just so we’re clear here: A notion of science as reduced to “abiding to falsification standards” is a European based traditional belief system that functions to delegitimise and devalue situated knowledges and particularly subaltern knowledges, and... uphold white supremacy. And that is exactly the point of this FPP.

Thank you to the OP for taking the time and engage with the unfortunately foreseeable emotional labour to share this with us.
posted by katta at 1:47 PM on February 4 [17 favorites]

"Savage" is used in the FPP text.

I'm aware of that, but the text in the post is the dissertation author herself, and clearly not in defense of claiming Native peoples were "savage." GenjiandProust's comment says:
What I am bothered by is the approach by some of the comments in the thread that the presence or absence of horses would disprove or prove the “savagery” of Indigenous Americans
And I do not see evidence in this thread for that claim.
posted by tclark at 1:53 PM on February 4 [5 favorites]

I teach epistemology and just so we’re clear here: A notion of science as reduced to “abiding to falsification standards” is a European based traditional belief system that functions to delegitimise and devalue situated knowledges and particularly subaltern knowledges, and... uphold white supremacy. And that is exactly the point of this FPP.

I'm not sure how we can navigate a world of alternate forms of scientific knowledge, without also requiring that we "teach the controversy" about young-Earth creationism. Are ANY beliefs illegitimate such that we can consider them patently untrue?

I don't think "science" has all the answers. Scientific hegemony deserves social critique, and opportunities for that are ample. But when something is advanced as a physical, material fact (i.e., indigenous Americans had horse culture prior to European colonialism), I prefer them to be empirically based and subjected to criticism on the basis of tangible evidence. That's my preference where claims about about our shared physical reality are concerned, but not other types of claims.
posted by MetaFilter World Peace at 2:13 PM on February 4 [29 favorites]

If genetic studies of contemporary horses only showed Eurasian horse DNA it still wouldn't disprove this theory-- no genetic traces of pre-columbian dog DNA have been found in contemporary dog populations.

Let's all slow down and read Yvette Running Horse Collin's thesis.
posted by head full of air at 2:18 PM on February 4 [7 favorites]

Okay, I've read through Chapter Six, which makes Collins' argument in the context of the biological data. And.... mmmm. I'm not convinced either by the dissertation or the linked criticism one way or another. Some of this might be down to varying fields of expertise between me--as I stated, I do not work with paleogenetic material--and the writer of the critique. I think based purely on the biological data she's got, it makes sense to try extracting DNA from teeth from any potentially pre-Columbian skulls and comparing it to other modern and historical equine samples. If I was a paleogeneticist, that might be a thing to try doing next.

I do not think that genetic sampling of the horses in her herd is likely to yield much which is interesting, or that the failure of genetic sampling to identify those patterns is necessarily a repudiation of her thesis. Perhaps I'm wrong! I think there are a lot of historical reasons to think that such a pattern might be lost, though, and if I was going to put in a bunch of money into resolving this question, I'd go for pulling DNA from fossil horses before I went for sequencing modern animals.

For me, the most compelling biological evidence she cites (because radio-carbon dating and its potential error rates isn't in my own personal wheelhouse) is a DNA metabarcoding study focusing on DNA analyses of permafrost cores. Annoyingly, Collins doesn't cite the specific study that analyzes North American cores and finds evidence for late pre-Colombian horses. She cites a study that pioneers the method but used cores from New Zealand and Siberia, not North America, and then she cites a non-peer-reviewed article about a totally different study that did find evidence for horses being extant in North America as late as ~8,000 years ago, which is well past the point of human habitation in the area. But... that study exists! And it says what she says it does, and we really should have a look at this idea and test it empirically with the biological resources we have today.

(That study is almost certainly Haile, James, et al. "Ancient DNA reveals late survival of mammoth and horse in interior Alaska." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106.52 (2009): 22352-22357)
posted by sciatrix at 2:22 PM on February 4 [19 favorites]

I think it's interesting to see someone ask whether the author will change her view if she's proven wrong, without discussion of what it would take for those who disbelieve her dissertation to change their view if they are proven wrong.

Perhaps this is because my scientific experience was/is with psychology where we know that any understanding is going to be a massive simplification of the underlying phenomena, and any measurements are going to be inaccurate and noisy to some degree (and some studies can't be replicated, and some data is falsified, because scientists are human), but "proven wrong" seems like such a simplification of how I understand scientists understand stuff.

To me science has always been about trying to explain as much of the known facts as possible, and then use those explanations and understandings to generalize and predict future outcomes, and whether the idea is "true" or "false" isn't really meaningful except as a shorthand.

We absolutely talked about historical ideas in psychology that are less useful in explaining things, with the understanding that knowing how people understood stuff in the past often informs our present without dictating current understandings. It's the same way that creationism and the view of human kind at the apex of all life informs understandings of evolution.

Nobody is teaching about Freud to teach the controversy, nobody talks about epicycles in astronomy because they think they are the best way to explain orbital mechanics, and conflating talking about different understandings with equally privileging ideas that have strong utility and scientific support, and those that don't, seems rather problematic.
posted by gryftir at 2:41 PM on February 4 [4 favorites]

Can we not simultaneously find it credible that there were horses in North America before the Europeans showed up, and also that they weren't necessarily animal slaves?
posted by aspersioncast at 3:09 PM on February 4 [3 favorites]

I have seen the mammoth carved in a side canyon off the Colorado River, at Moab, Utah. The Ute panels at Sego Canyon are labeled as post Spanish arrival, because they just couldn't have had horses! I can see how history isn't necessarily, actually more like opinion, man.
posted by Oyéah at 3:45 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]

Pita Kelekna is a good scholarly source to check out.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:18 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]

Since Gobekli showed up, I've enjoyed learning about what happened in the early Holocene (when the icecaps melted). There's been a *lot* of news about it in the last 15 years, and a lot of fascinating discoveries.

There's been a surplus of new evidence that promises momentous revisions in our story. But in many areas, there still isn't a lot of physical evidence. In all of North America, for example, as of the last year (I'm trusting recent literature) only 3 fossil (>10K years) human remains have ever been found. In order for something to fossilize, it has to *somehow* be buried *soon* after it dies ... else it disappears. Where are the remains ... of the humans or horses?

Evidence-wise, *many* questions remain *wide open*. But the evidence IS in that, at the beginning of the Holocene, hundreds of species went extinct (all the big Megafauna - their bones are widespread - including tens of millions of mammoths) and the Clovis culture disappeared. (Traders from Northern Siberia brought boatloads of mammoth tusks to London for *a century*.)

After that happened? The evidentiary silence is deafening. The stories of the indigenous cultures need to be heard and to be considered as we try to understand what happened to life in those times.
posted by Twang at 5:22 PM on February 4 [9 favorites]

Aztecs or the Inca

Both lived in mountainous areas. Stands to reason that the Plains Indians of North America were more likely to have seen/domesticated horses.
posted by explosion at 6:23 PM on February 4 [3 favorites]

It seems to me that the jump from "they were smart and had a culture of developed materials" to "they would obviously have felt the need to militarize every asset at their disposal" is pretty loaded with modern western cultural assumptions.

Ah, yes. Who can forget that peaceful and gentle people, the Aztecs, who definitely didn’t just go to war with all their neighbors constantly in order to get people they could sacrifice by cutting out their hearts and what not?
posted by sideshow at 7:51 PM on February 4 [5 favorites]

ok well regardless they lived in a jungle/swamp/lake and i'm not a cavalry expert but calvary are not really...swamp ready Nor are they mountainside ready
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:24 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]

no genetic traces of pre-columbian dog DNA have been found in contemporary dog populations

That article seems to be based on this study, which does say "The majority of modern American dog populations, including 138 village dogs from South America and multiple 'native' breeds (e.g., hairless dogs and Catahoulas), possess no detectable traces of PCD [pre-contact dog] ancestry."

I was curious about what examples weren't in the majority, and I found in the PDF of supplementary materials that "Out of 667 modern domestic dog genomes analysed here we found only five modern samples with a pre-contact mtDNA haplogroup (Figure S5): 1) Terrier cross from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua (Accession: KU291094), 2) Chihuahua (Accession: EU408262) 3) Japanese Spitz (Accession: EU789755) 4) non-breed dog from Shanxixian, China (Accession: EU789669) 5) non-breed dog from Laem Ngop, Thailand (Accession: EU789664)."

The authors offer several hypotheses (including mislabeled data), but eventually arrive at this: "These results instead suggest that dogs carrying PCD ancestry have been transported from Americas into East Asia. This most likely took place during recent times and could be linked to the creation of hairless dog breeds in Asia." I thought that was an interesting hypothesis in view of the extensive history of maritime transport between Central America and East Asia, beginning in 1565, but the authors don't seem to be including the possibility the data was mislabeled as just a formality--at least, they mention it twice.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:32 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]

The pre-Columbian horse thing makes me nervous as a tick because I've been hearing Mormons argue for 55+ years that there "must" have been horses in America before Columbus because the Book of Mormon mentions them.

People get so excited when they discover the Pleistocene horses in America. "See, there were horses in America before Columbus after all!!!1!!!!!"

"Yeah but they were like 10,000 years before the time frame you are talking about" never quite penetrates.

Anyway, living in America's Great Plains, for various reasons I've recently been pondering the apparent difference in overall development and influence of the American Great Plains vs the Eurasian Steppe in human history over the past 10,000 years or so.

You could almost say it is a fixture of the history (and pre-history) of that region that some great civilization develops on the Steppes, raids and conquers and sweeps its way east and/or west, and succeeding waves over various centuries and millenia have, for instance, push the various people of Europe ever westward-westward-westward.

In North America, despite a pretty similar geography, I don't really see any evidence that the American Plains grew up these sort of large nomadic raiding populations that then terrorized and/or conquered other groups in their path and more or less pushed large groups of population around.

Perhaps it is just ignorance--because there are swaths of American pre-history we just don't known too much about--but it seems like population centers in North America took a pretty different direction. Aside from a few places like Cahokia (which is remarkable, no question), it seems like major civilizations and population centers in North America where mostly elsewhere than the Great Plains and the plains don't really follow that pattern of generating civilization after civilization that grows and expands and dominates the surrounding areas.

Back to the horse: The horse is absolutely central to the story of the Steppe and the groups that flourished there. They absolutely couldn't have done it without #1. herds and #2. horses. The herds gave them the edge in food supply and the horse--and later the wagon--gave them the edge on mobility.

If horses were flourishing and domesticated on the Great Plains in, say, 1000-4000 BC my guess is North American civilization would have possibly developed in a quite different way than it did.

(And in reverse, if you subtract the horse from the Steppe from say 4000 BC to 1000 AD, by golly a few continents would have a very, very different history.)

I'm probably more outlining an alternate history novel I want to write here rather than serious/careful history, but the Great Plains/Steppes similarity and differences have been on my mind lately and the domestication of the horse vs no horse has to play a huge role there.
posted by flug at 11:09 PM on February 4 [4 favorites]

I think it's interesting to see someone ask whether the author will change her view if she's proven wrong, without discussion of what it would take for those who disbelieve her dissertation to change their view if they are proven wrong.

...if it's proven wrong, nothing? I mean, then there'd be all kinds of cool new science. What parts of the genome survive in modern horses, if any? Is there any evidence of domestication? Any artifacts that have been overlooked that could be interpreted as the remains of riding or pack gear? If there is evidence of domestication, when did it occur? Why was it not more widespread, given the well-documented trade networks? Someone above seemed to have gotten confused between wheels and horses -- wheels didn't make sense as more than toys due to mountains, horses are still supremely useful for riding and pack animals in far more terrains than plains. And for the military aspects, even if you aren't doing Mongol style mass cavalry maneuvers, they make great messengers and mobile light troops -- even if the troops actually fight dismounted.

But as presented, it's an extremely thin and random assortment of not very good physical evidence, and what there is appears to be often a lightly disguised rehash from Mormon nonsense history.
posted by tavella at 11:10 PM on February 4 [6 favorites]

I could believe there were horses in North America before the Spanish arrive, it's always confused me that they spread and bred so relatively fast, if the theory is true: in part because they can't have lost hundreds of very valuable horses (as she indicates in the interview), and in part because mares can only have one foal a year. Also, the North American horse types seem very different from the horses the Spanish would have brought from Europe.
I can also at the same time believe that the Spanish introduced horses to South America. Horses are very adaptable, but they don't do very well in rain forests. They wouldn't on their own pass through Mesoamerica. The horses in South America also look far more like horses descended from Spanish imports.

The author's proposal that Native Americans are somehow a separate species of humans that arose in the Americas is crazy, though. Sorry to put it that bluntly. But it really makes it difficult to take her seriously.
posted by mumimor at 3:11 AM on February 5 [7 favorites]

Ah, yes. Who can forget that peaceful and gentle people, the Aztecs, who definitely didn’t just go to war with all their neighbors constantly in order to get people they could sacrifice by cutting out their hearts and what not?

Interestingly, you seem to have linked to an article that 100% proves my point that we can't assume we understand the Aztecs' relationship with war to be very like our own or that it matches an anything-goes sensibility. Some selected quotes with added emphasis from your very interesting link:
  • A flower war or flowery war (Nahuatl languages: xōchiyāōyōtl, Spanish: guerra florida) was a ritual war
  • In these wars, participants would fight according to a set of conventions.
  • Flower wars differed from typical wars in a number of important aspects.
  • Actual battle tactics also differed from typical warfare.
  • The use of these kinds of weapons allowed the Aztecs to display their individual combat ability
Perhaps you meant to link to this article instead, which focuses on "typical war" for Aztecs and ALSO points out how important proving individual prowess was, and adds the context that capturing enemies alive was a very important part of proving that prowess; accomplishments that might be better served without cavalry, perhaps? Certainly very different from the assumed ethos on display here.

But hey, let's keep throwing Wikipedia articles at a thesis developed by an indigenous scholar, that surely won't prove her wider point or anything.
posted by solotoro at 6:39 AM on February 5 [8 favorites]

OK, so I've read some of the dissertation. The reasoning is quite good, and yes, a lot of the sources are sketchy which is to be expected when the subject has not been discussed much within academia. I wish she could have sought out some primary sources, but it's Alaska University and it doesn't seem like she speaks Spanish.
The dissertation crosses and combines several disciplines, and that will always be a mess, I wish she wouldn't use Grounded Theory. But using other disciplines and methods can sometimes be necessary, and I think this is a good case. Maybe if she can use this dissertation as the starting point of a real cross-disciplinary collaborative project where the archeology is done by archeologists, the geology by geologists etc., she can assemble the real facts needed to build her case.
The arguments I read are
- why should the horse disappear from the Americas? It was a very adaptable, small animal that could and can deal with very different types of landscape and climate, not at all like all those giants that absolutely disappeared
- it doesn't make sense that a few missing Spanish horses could reproduce and spread in such a short while
- native horses, such as the ponies on Assateague Island, don't look like Spanish horses at all
- several contemporary sources claimed there were big herds of horses in North America very early on after the European arrival
- there are archeological finds indicating that horses were in America before Columbus
- oral tradition says there were horses

I'm not putting oral tradition last because it's the least convincing, but because I want to add a bit about it. I'm absolutely not an expert, but I have had it explained that oral tradition is in fact very useful in many cases. But you have to know what it can say and what it can't. Because I'm working with this right now, I'm going to point to the Homeric Epics. This is an oral tradition that survived the Bronze Age Collapse, more than 3000 years ago. We can't use the stories as history, but they do point at things that really existed. To figure out what is history and what is myth, what is oral tradition and what is later embellishment, you need both archeologists, linguists, historians and classicists.
That said, people with an oral tradition of history are really better at preserving facts orally than those with a culture of written history and documentation, which makes sense on a basic level.

BTW, Erik the Red would probably have brought Icelandic horses with him to Vinland, and they probably ran away when the people died, if they weren't eaten. But if they were the horses that populated America, I don't think they would ever have reached the West. Again, a small group will take many years to become great herds.
posted by mumimor at 7:58 AM on February 5 [7 favorites]

the North American horse types seem very different from the horses the Spanish would have brought from Europe

Pretty sure Pintos, Arabians, and Appaloosas are all more-or-less directly traceable to Spanish stock?
posted by aspersioncast at 9:31 AM on February 6

Here is a link to a non-paywalled article about the ice age horse, excavated in Lehi, Utah. Most of the central western states was covered by an inland sea, for a long time, and then became, among other things, The Great Basin, Great Salt Lake, and the basin and range areas of Nevada, and Utah. The fossils are on the margins, I guess. Huge features, now vanished, such a a huge river running north, out of the Grand Canyon, Moab, areas, moved things around in ways which are hard to fathom, especially when academic communities disagree on the basics.
posted by Oyéah at 9:49 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]

Pinto isn't a horse breed, it's a color. Arabians are not remotely traceable to Spanish horses; for a Spanish-style horse, think Andalusian or a Paso Fino. Bear in mind these all of these breeds have changed quite dramatically over the past 300 years and have been heavily selected for different sports as the advent of the car rendered horses an expensive luxury for many people.

Thoroughbreds are descendents of three specific Arabian stallions crossed on English racing mares. Quarter Horses are descended from Thoroughbreds crossed with whatever was around in the US, including horses bred by local indigenous nations (the Chickasaw horse is often noted). Paints are, basically, Quarter Horses with one or more of four genes that introduce big patches of white all over the horse. The modern TB and Arabian registries allow outcrosses to no kind of horses to be registered as full Thoroughbreds or Arabians. Quarter Horses allow outcrosses to Thoroughbreds only. The American Paint Horse Association allows outcrosses to both Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds to be registered as full Paints.

Appaloosas are complicated, and what any given Appaloosa is descended from is... also complicated. The basic start of the breed was the horses of the Nez Perce, which were described as being light steppe horses specialized for long distances and speed, rather like a modern Arabian or Akhal-Teke. I talked about the way that the Nez Perce were forced to crossbreed their horses to draft stallions to create what the US Army said would be good farm horses and cart horses, but I didn't talk about what happened next. Sixty years later, a bunch of white people noticed the horses that were still around and decided that they liked the colors and wanted to revive the breed with what was left. That's where we get the modern Appaloosa Horse Club.

Today, there's fighting within Appaloosa people about what an Appaloosa should be. The main registry (the Appaloosa Horse Club, the ApHC) allows outcrosses to Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds to be registered as purebred Appaloosas, and many people in the breed aim for, basically, spotty Quarter Horses along whatever specialization of Quarter Horse they like best. It is worth noting that the Nez Perce have never had ownership or control over the ApHC. Appaloosa people have a distinct tendency to emphasize the exotic nature of their horses' origins without, you know, consulting the Nez Perce people alive today or extending them any particular respect or solidarity. The horses are taken; why consider how they got here? This is why the Nez Perce horse exists now instead.
posted by sciatrix at 9:58 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]

Thanks, sciatrix, I don't know a lot about the American breeds and I found your comment very interesting.
Because you mentioned cars, I was reminded that a high performing horse, like a war horse, is and was at least as expensive as a high performing car. The initial price is high, the training is very costly, and the maintenance is staggering.
You were as likely to let your fabulous Andalusian mount run wild as you today would leave your Tesla on the street with the keys in. Since you can't have locks on horses, what they had was grooms, who literally lived with the horses. This factor alone means that it is unlikely that thousands of Spanish horses escaped.
In order to perform, they couldn't live on grass alone, so they needed tons of oats or barley which are not easily available when you are conquering the Americas. There are a few alternatives, but basically, for a war horse, you have to bring the food with you, just as for the human soldiers. When they don't work too hard, horses can live on any form of grass and some other plants, but then you can't expect them to perform in a conflict.
The Spanish brought animals for more basic functions, like hauling luggage and food etc. But I suspect that they used mules for a lot of that. Horses are often too expensive for basic work.
posted by mumimor at 1:49 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

“We have calmly known we've always had the horse, way before the settlers came. The Spanish never came through our area, so there's no way they could have introduced them to us," The trade networks from Cahokia alone stretched down to what is Panama. So to say just because Group A made/introduced something far away does not prove it could not make its way to Group B far away.

And the highly militaristic Mexica (Aztecs) were,in many ways as very elegant,by the HORSE BRINGING SPANISH. Had the equally militaristic Tlaxcalans not decided to attack the Triple Alliance with some level of assistance from the Spanish then perhaps the current history of Meso America would be a little bit different.
posted by tarvuz at 2:08 PM on February 9

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