Rethinking the human-horse story in the American West

When thinking about ideas of synthesis in our understanding of the past, archaeologists often look for ways to build large, interdisciplinary datasets that can connect important pieces of the human story with larger scale cultural and environmental processes. However, it is less standard to include Indigenous sources of knowledge, such as oral traditions, alongside on equal footing.  In our new study, we combined archaeozoology with a wide range of biomolecular data – including radiocarbon dates, ancient genomes, and isotope analysis – with Indigenous perspectives on the story of people and horses in the Great Plains of North America. Our findings show that the standard narrative on the origin and dispersal of domestic horses drawn from historical records, which points to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 as a catalyst event, contrasts with both the archaeological record and many Indigenous traditions, which point to an earlier integration of horses into lifeways and culture. They suggest that inclusive research pairing western science with traditional perspectives is an important pathway to better science.

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