New research challenges the long-held belief that horses were introduced to the American West by Europeans
Native Americans may have spread the animals across the region, long before Europeans arrived.
The arrival of horses in North America is a well-known story. Spanish explorers brought them to the Americas in the 16th century, and they quickly spread throughout the continent. However, a new study suggests that horses may have arrived in North America even earlier than that, and that Native Americans may have played a role in their spread.
The study, published in the journal Science1, looked at the DNA of horses from across North America. The researchers found that the horses in the American West were more closely related to horses from South America than to horses from the East Coast. This suggests that the horses in the West arrived there from South America, and that they did so before the Spanish arrived in North America.
The researchers believe that Native Americans may have been responsible for bringing the horses to the West. They may have acquired the horses from South America, and then transported them north along trade routes.
This new study suggests that the history of horses in North America is more complex than we thought. It also suggests that Native Americans played a more important role in the spread of horses than we previously realized.
Taylor, W. T. T., Librado, P., American Horse, C. J., Shield Chief Gover, C., Arterberry, J., Afraid of Bear-Cook, A. L., Left Heron, H., Yellow Hair, R. M., Gonzalez, M., Means, B., High Crane, S., Yellow Bull, W. W., Dull Knife, B., Afraid of Bear, A., Tecumseh Collin, C., Ward, C., Pasqual, T. A., Chauvey, L., Tonasso-Calviere, L., … Orlando, L. (2023). Early dispersal of domestic horses into the Great Plains and northern Rockies. Science (New York, N.Y.), 379(6639), 1316–1323. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.adc9691