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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1 thought on “Rethinking the human-horse story in the American West”

  1. What standard narrative? As an archaeologist/ethnohistorian who has lived with Blackfoot people, I and my colleagues on the Northern Plains have not seen any such “standard narrative”. Horses came onto the Plains in 1540 with Coronado, and Plains people made long journeys, spending several years traveling, into Mexico, so Southern Plains were familiar with horses and raided for horses, as well as for slaves, before 1680. Northern Plains people began to integrate horses into their daily lives early in the 1700s.


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