April 5, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Horse Sense About Horse History Revision

Plains Indians were riding European-brought horses
a century earlier than thought. What does this mean?


A major new research study into the history of North American domesticated horses by 88 authors from 66 institutions has “upended” what archaeologists thought they knew about horse domestication by Native Americans. The project, published in Science on 30 March 2023, indicates that the tribes took to horse riding, breeding and domestication very quickly, up to a century earlier than European historians thought. This time, the researchers took seriously some of the oral traditions of Pawnee, Lakota, Comanche and other tribes, along with petroglyphs, instead of relying on the records kept by Spanish conquerors and settlers.

The revision is interesting for historians and philosophers of science, but indicates additional problems for scientists bridled to an evolutionary old-Earth mindset, as we shall see.

First, look at some key dates in the traditional historical timeline, accepting for the moment the evolutionary old-earth dates.

  • Horseback riding is as old as civilization (photo by DFC)

    Before 4 million years ago, horses “evolved” in North America.

  • 14,000 BC, the first Asians enter North America and encounter large herds of wild horses. They hunt the horses for food rather than riding them, according to historians.
  • Unknown time: Wild horses migrate to Asia over the Bering Land Bridge.
  • 11,000 years ago, North American megafauna, including the wild horses, disappear after the “last Ice Age.”
  • 3000 BC, domesticated horses appear in the steppes of central Asia, and are quickly adopted into Europe and Britain.
  • < 800 AD, North American tribes were limited to human muscle power and dogs, yet built impressive structures at Chaco Canyon, Montezuma Castle, Mesa Verde, Betatakin and many other locations. Around 800 AD, a drought may have led them to abandon many of these dwellings.
  • < 1400 AD, Vikings take horses as far as Greenland.
  • 1519 AD: Hernando Cortez and his band of conquistadors brought 16 horses on ships from Spain to Mexico, astonishing and frightening the Aztecs.
  • 16th century: Additional Spanish immigrants brought horses into settlements as far north as New Mexico, keeping them for themselves.
  • 1680: A great “Southwest Revolt” by the Native Americans threw off Spanish rule temporarily. The tribes took Spanish horses and began to use them for their buffalo hunts. Horses quickly became deeply integrated into tribal life.

The new research indicates that Native American tribes incorporated horse domestication up to a century earlier than the 1680 revolt. That would be within a few decades of their re-introduction to North America by Cortez and other Spanish immigrants.

Researchers used multiple lines of evidence (radiocarbon dating, artifacts, archaeological remains, tribal language vocabularies, petroglyphs, bone analysis, written records and oral traditions) to learn that the plains Indians and other tribes quickly latched onto horse culture. Here are articles about the research:

Horse nations: After the Spanish conquest, horses transformed Native American tribes much earlier than historians thought (Andrew Curry, Science Magazine, 30 March 2023). Most quotes below will be from this detailed summary of the research paper and its surprising findings.

Early dispersal of domestic horses into the Great Plains and northern Rockies (Taylor et al., Science Magazine, 30 March 2023). This is the full research paper.

Landmark study on history of horses in American West relies on Indigenous knowledge (Colorado University Boulder Today, 30 March 2023). See the embedded video on the history of horsemanship.

Indigenous people of the American West used ‘sacred’ horses a half-century earlier than previously thought (Live Science, 30 March 2023).

The untold history of the horse in the American Plains: A new future for the world (CNRS via Phys.org, 30 March 2023).

*We know it is considered by some ‘politically incorrect’ to use this word Indian instead of the convoluted phrase Native American, and so none of the articles or papers use the word. We mean no disrespect, but ask some fair questions before capitulating to the change: (1) How many Native Americans are offended by the word? or is it just ivory tower elites? We still see ‘Indian Trading Post’ signs throughout the southwest, operated by tribal peoples, and phrases like Indian pottery or Indian blankets. (2) The word has been used for a long, long time, ever since Columbus thought he had landed in India. Abandoning all use of the word renders books, movies and other media, made in good faith when produced, suspect and offensive to some. (3) If everyone capitulates to the ‘Native American’ label that is trendy now, some tribal peoples could soon become offended at that label and demand something else (‘We’re not Americans!’ or ‘Who are you calling a native?’ or such). (4) One cannot use the tribal names (Lakota, Comanche, Pawnee) all the time either, because some individuals have mixed heritage. We need a general, easy word for all those in the human family that the Europeans encountered in the Americas. When a word has served that purpose for centuries and is not intrinsically demeaning, there are downsides to declaring it unmentionable. Let us know in the comments how you feel. Final note: The Smithsonian says that ‘Indian’ is acceptable usage, and it is still in the Dictionary

Curry says that the Lakota boasted that they had used horses from ‘time immemorial’ in their oral traditions. Other tribes’ traditions are less confident of the antiquity of the horse; they didn’t have words for the animals, speaking of them as ‘big dogs’ or ‘elk dogs’ or the equivalent of ‘what is this?’ This indicates a time gap between the disappearance of wild horses and the re-introduction of domesticated horses.

Pawnee historian speaks of the impact of horses:

The change, Reed explains, resulted from the introduction of the horse. For millennia, the Pawnee had relied on dogs to haul their belongings on bison hunting trips; when they acquired horses, the impact was immediate and dramatic. “They allowed us to carry more gear, pull more food, have bigger tipis,” Reed says. “It’s so hard to imagine our culture without horses, it boggles your mind.”

Problems for Old Earth Thinking

Old West aficionados recall the legends of bareback Indian riders able to shoot arrows accurately at a full gallop. How rapid was their adoption of the horse? Did it take centuries or decades? No; it was “immediate,” the quote says. Consider a Pawnee chief and his tribe encountering Spanish soldiers on horseback in the late 1500s. Almost instantly, light bulbs would be going off in their heads as they watched in astonishment and envisioned the possibilities. Horse envy could have occurred in a single day, much like a modern photographer seeing what another photographer can do with a drone and thinking, ‘Hey! I want one of those!’

It’s not unthinkable that Indians would have learned horsemanship rapidly from some of the Spanish by observation or direct conversation. Within that month or year, a tribe could have learned enough about breaking, bridling and riding a horse to get in the business quickly. And as they began showing off to other tribes or fighting them on horseback, the horse envy would have spread like a prairie fire. It would not have taken long for them to master the care and feeding of horses, breeding the best, and learning all the skills of horsemanship. The whole tribe would have benefited quickly. They could ride farther on buffalo hunts. They could carry loads, like bigger logs for bigger tipis. They could engage in trade with other tribes. Native American life could have been transformed within a year or a few months, depending on how fast they could acquire steeds. (Human proclivity for horse thievery would have taken care of that quickly, too.)

The 5-minute animation in the University of Colorado press release, “How horses changed history,” offers some reasons for the slow adoption of horses for riding. Primarily, wild horses were too fast and hard to handle, they say, and riding bareback was uncomfortable. But the video proposes a multi-thousand-year time gap between human domestication of other animals—dogs (15,000 to 20,000 years ago), sheep, pigs, goats and cattle (11,000 to 8,000 years ago), and donkeys (5,000 years ago)—before they mastered horse control. Additionally, the video starts by saying that horses were the animals most often depicted in cave paintings 30,000 years ago. The video also shows the evolutionary ‘horse series’ that has largely been discredited.

Humans have long bred horses for their needs, from giant Clydesdales to miniature Shetland ponies. Intelligent breeding can create big changes rapidly. (Photo by DFC)

The evolutionary old-earth timeline demeans the intelligence of human beings. We’ve brought this up numerous times (most recently 9 March 2023). To accept the timeline above, one has to believe that fully modern people groups who could migrate across continents, build tools, control the use of fire, and hunt mammoths with teamwork, were too stupid to figure out how to ride a horse. Even after they had built impressive cities they had not yet figured it out. Does that make any sense?

Look at the timeline. Can anyone believe that modern humans made beautiful paintings of horses in caves 30,000 years ago or more, but never tamed them? Can anyone accept the notion that for tens of thousands of years while wild horses lived in North America the natives only hunted horses for food? Horse meat doesn’t taste that good, as Lewis & Clark and the mountain men knew. They were a meal of last resort when deer were not plentiful. To think that intelligent human beings endured many times the recorded history of civilization without harnessing horse power insults our ancestors.

What intelligent human being, seeing a strong horse with a smooth back, would not jump on and try to stay on it? It’s human nature to try new things, especially young men wanting to impress friends. The first one falling off would be quickly followed by a braver one attempting to best him. Courage is often highly valued and important to native people groups. For thousands of years, was there no Indian willing to try this? For thousands of years, was there no human being figuring out how to make a crude corral or halter? The women could weave intricate baskets, but not make ropes? It makes no sense in North America, and it makes no sense in Eurasia, Mongolia, or China where horses supposedly lived alongside humans for tens of thousands of years (on the evolutionary timeline) before they were finally domesticated around 3,000 BC. Wild horses too skittish to capture? They could have captured colts and raised them. Mares tend to be tamer than stallions. Individual horses have different temperaments; surely some would have been approachable. If early modern humans could tame pigs, they could tame horses. It makes no sense to think they couldn’t figure this out for tens of thousands of years.

So why do the experts believe these dates? The answer: evolution needs the time. Millions of years is not a conclusion from the evidence. It is a premise on which the superstructure of Darwinism is built. The Law of the Misdeeds and Perversions says that Darwin’s millions of years cannot be revoked.

Created kinds share primary traits but can diversify in minor traits.

The fossil “horse series” shown in the video has been debunked. For a long time, it was a prime example of a long-discredited view of evolution called orthogenesis, meaning straight-line evolution. The problem is that equine fossils span different continents and different times; they could not have been in ancestral relationships. Most evolutionists today see diversification as a branching tree or bush.

Young-earth creationists allow for quite a bit of diversification within created kinds. “Kinds” might relate to taxonomic clades at the genus or family level. Some creationists see significant diversification of created kinds like the “horse kind” or baramin into today’s horses, donkeys and zebras. Though different, they all share most traits in common.

Consider how much more sense the Genesis timeline makes. Humans were created intelligent, and within a few generations were building cities, using metallurgy and making musical instruments. Then the great Flood came and wiped out all but Noah’s family. It took a few generations to recover, but in about one century the Tower of Babel was being built—a monumental project involving teamwork and engineering skill. Animals and plants were once again rapidly filling the earth with the inherent adaptability God engineered into them. After the dispersion and confusion of languages, people groups did not take long to migrate all over the world. Some lived in caves for periods of time as hunter-gatherers and drew the animals on the walls, using the artistic skill that comes with the image of God. Within a short time after Babel, probably contemporaneous with the cave paintings, horse domestication was starting in Asia, and was in full use soon after in the first great empires in Egypt, Babylonia and the Far East. It did not take tens of thousands of years.









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