Posts Tagged With: Pre-Columbian Horses

A Horse is a Horse, Unless it’s an American Horse.

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Our first full chapter in The Lost History of Ancient America is ‘Horses in America Before Columbus’ by Dr. Steven E. Jones.

Dr. Jones is a retired physicist from Brigham Young University known for his 9/11 Truther theories about Muon-Catalysed Fusion melting steel beams and for his ideas about Cold Nuclear Fusion. He’s active on several websites involved in proving the Book of Mormon as factually true and has chosen American Horses as his evidence. From his interactions on these sites, it is apparent that Jones believes that the wild American horse was not brought over by the Spanish but by an earlier people. From his on-line affiliations, we can guess that these people are connected to the Mormon faith somehow, probably as the lost tribes of Israel. This is all based on Jones on-line presence, his article as presented here appears to be a rehashing of previously published posts that follow this article nearly verbatim (Jones Nd.). The subtle changes are mostly in the use of BCE/CE and BP/AP for time notation.

Jones makes several claims in his article that are a bit problematic for me. I summarize them at the end of this post, but let’s work through them as we go. There’s a fair amount to unpack here.

First I want to give a small bit of background to the history of the American Horse:

There were American horses. They existed on the continent during the Pleistocene (roughly 3 mya), and appear to have used the Bering Land Bridge to migrate themselves over to what is modern Asia, Russia, and then Europe and elsewhere. From there they split up and were eventually domesticated into what we now know and love. At some point during, or after, the land bridge was lost, American horses, like almost all American megafauna, went extinct (about 8,000 – 10,000 years ago). Is this directly due to human occupation? I can’t answer that definitively, but we do know that early Americans were hunting and eating horses, as they did with any of the other animals they could catch. Climate change probably added a helping hand, and you can factor in diseases as well, just cause.

What we don’t have, and what Jones seems to try to imply, is any evidence of either domestication or the use of American horse as beasts of burden.
The American continent wouldn’t see horses again till Spanish colonists brought domestic horses from Europe with them in the 1500’s. As soon as they arrived, these horses began to escape and quickly established large feral herds, becoming both boon and bane to Native Peoples. From this point forward, America held onto the Horse again, and do to our love affair with them, we’re probably not going to hunt and eat them into extinction again anytime soon.

Jones states that he began seeking out horse bones from North America and Mesoamerica for the purpose of radiocarbon (C14) dating them (Jones 2017). He pulled a team of researchers around him, all of which are hard to track down, some of which have dubious research along similar lines but still make the work look more legitimate.

Jones expresses his interest in finding dates that range:

“The time frame of interest can be expressed in terms of “Before Present” by convention and extends from 10,000 BP (thus after the last ice age) to 500 BP (when Spaniards soon after Columbus brought horses to America). The prevailing paradigm holds that there were no horses in the Americas during this time interval; the Book of Mormon and a number of native (sic) American oral traditions hold otherwise.” (Jones 2017)

Let’s put aside the generalized “Native American oral traditions” for now. The biggest flaw here is the use of the Book of Mormon (BoM) as a legitimate source of historical fact, and therefore a starting point for research. I know many may feel this is unfair, but as it stands, there is no reason to accept the BoM as an actual, factual document.

Jones does appear to find several samples that he appears to successfully get date ranges for. But again, treating all Equus as the same Equus causes Jones to miss major issues with his study.

The first he mentions is from Pratt Cave:

“The first of these was found in Pratt Cave near El Paso, Texas, by Prof. Ernest Lundelius of Texas A&M University. Prof. Lundelius responded to my inquiries and provided a horse bone from Pratt Cave which dated to BCE 6020 – 5890. This date is well since the last ice age, into the time frame when all American horses should have been absent according to the prevailing paradigm.” (Jones 2017)

Pratt Cave is roundly accepted to be a Holocene (starting roughly 11,700 ya) site (Harris 2013) and within the collection of artifacts associated with that time period, no extinct species are found (Harris 2013). This means, that there are no horse bones found that are related to the actual findings for the cave assemblage. Lundelius did indeed find two specimens of Equus the cave (Harris 2013). These two bones were found on or very near the surface, not in the associated artifact assemblage of Pratt Cave. Lundelius also concluded that “Their [the bones] position in the cave and their preservation indicate they represent [modern horses] (Lundelius 1979:246).” and that “they represent a small form about the size of an ass” (Lundelius 1979:246).

As for Jones’ date. Jones provides no context for the date that he apparently got from his own testing. There’s no evidence or citation proving that testing even occurred. Charitably, we could say that he failed to show his work. (Though there is a small part of me that wonders if some of this, and other articles, citations were removed at the time of editing. Though the reasoning behind this is beyond me.) He also ignores Lundelius’ own date range that places the bones firmly inside the expected date range for modern, post-Columbus, horses.

Jones next mentions a bone from Wolf Spider Cave in Colorado. Here he claims that the date range is 1260 to 1400 CE and he tells us he used thermoluminescence methods to date it (Jones 2017). He invokes the name of the late Elaine Anderson (1936-2002)  of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (formerly the Denver Museum of Natural History), saying that she was an expert of an expert on Equus identification (Jones 2017). This is only true in that Anderson was an expert in vertebrate paleontology and mammals (Graham 2002), a far cry from what Jones is trying to imply here. To be clear, I’m not saying she isn’t an expert, I am saying that Jones appears to be playing up her focus on ‘Equus’ to make his claim sound truer.

Likewise, I can find only one mention of the Wolf Cave site beyond Jones’ brief mention of it. Craig C. Downer’s paper in the American Journal of Life Sciences. Downer (2014) is using the bone to argue for better habitat preservation for Wild Horse, seeing the alternative, and frankly more plausible, theory to Jones’, that Wild Horses didn’t die out of the Americas as early as thought. (We’ll get back to that.)

Jones also mentions Horsethief Cave in Wyoming. A very popular caving destination. He states that a bone was found there that dates to roughly 1100 BCE (Jones 2017). His team tried to re-date the bone but were unable, do to a lack of collagen. He then references an unprovenanced bone, also from Wyoming. He gives it a date range of 1426-1481 CE (Jones 2017), but since we know nothing about the bone; where it’s from, how it was dated, or if it even exists, there is no reason to accept this bone as any form of evidence.

Jones then points us to a few Canadian bones, but he also says:

“The complete expiration of ancestral horse stock in Canada has yet to be completely confirmed…” (Jones 2017)

Which basically means that there is no hard extinction data for the wild horse in Canada. Personally, this statement should throw a major wrench in Jones’ whole article here, again I’ll address this in a bit.

Jones also references the oral histories of Native Americans, lumping them all together and not giving any specific examples to bolster his argument, beyond these histories mentioning horses. He does mention the Appaloosa horse breed, created and maintained by the Nez Perce people. However, he only does so to suggest that this breed may have been in the Americas earlier than thought (Jones 2017), effectively removing the Nez Perce people from the picture. He gives no evidence to support this statement, it just stands.

With that Jones wraps up his article, leaving the reader a little confused from lack of hard evidence to support his claims.

Keep in mind that, as stated by the introduction of this section, the purpose of this article was to provide us with incontrovertible evidence of transoceanic travelers in America’s prehistory. I’ve summarized my observations and criticisms below as to if the article managed to achieve this goal:

Summary:

    • Jones’ presentation of his evidence is lacking. The origin of his evidence is sketchy due to his chronic lack of citation. He doesn’t tell us where he’s gotten his information or data from. He barely tells us where the bones he’s using come from, and he never provides an explanation or examples of his dating methods. Most (basically all) professional articles will have tables showing the results of dating methods, showing the variance in the data and then the resulting data range. They will also provide a clear explanation of the methods used to obtain the data and explain any issues or outliers encountered while getting said data. None of this was present here. We were simply given dates and expected to accept them. One could say that he might have gotten them from another source, but this is where my complaint about the lack of citing comes in. If he had received this data from another source, he needed to tell us where, and briefly explain their methods. I’m not looking for an encyclopedic entry here, just a name and a publication date that ties into a paper in the reference section. Something to tell me that the data isn’t just made up.
    • Along these lines, Jones doesn’t provide adequate identification of the bones he mentions in his report. There are no provinces for the bones, no descriptions of the bones, no images of the bones, nothing to tell us anything about these artifacts other than they exist. Knowing that is not enough. We also don’t know what shape these bones are in. Beyond a single comment of a lack of collagen on one bone, we know nothing about them. Are there cut marks? Are there gnaw marks? Is there evidence of burning? Were the other bones in good condition preservation-wise? What other morphological characteristics were there about the bones? Were they from small Equus or large ones? Was it even possible to tell from the condition of the bones?
    • It’s important to know these things so we can deduce why the horses were there. If there were cut marks and gnawing marks on the bones, even evidence of burning, we can surmise the horses were being eaten. Pot-polish likewise tells us that the bones were most likely used as food. Stress marks or the like could tell us if the horses were being used as labor or not. Animal tooth marks, like those of predators gnawing on the bones, could show that the horse was simply brought down by a larger animal, or drug there by a scavenger. But we don’t know any of these things beyond possible data ranges for age.
    • The bones mentioned are small in number. There are six sites (ish) mentioned in total containing roughly the same number of bones. This is not a great sample given the vastly larger number of sites that date within Jones’ proposed date-range of 10,000 BP – 500 BP. If the dates Jones’s suggests he got are true, it’s an interesting anomaly, but still requires more evidence to support.
    • Other researchers mentioned by Jones in this article, are used in ways that either make them sound like they agree with Jones, or gives them more weight on a topic than is due.
    • Lastly, and I fear this is going to be an ongoing complaint with most of the articles in this book, is a whitewashing of history in favor of mysterious European founders. It’s perhaps more subtle here than elsewhere in the book. Jones’ suggestion that the Appaloosa horse breed, created and maintained by the Nez Perce people, is perhaps older than that. This subtly does two things simultaneously; it robs the Nez Perce of a horse breed that is clearly theirs, and it suggests that the horses must have come from some other culture. Since the point of this section is to prove transoceanic travel, it effectively says that this unknown horse breeding culture isn’t Native American.

As far as proving, or even being decent evidence for transoceanic travel, this article falls short. It certainly isn’t incontrovertible, and far from convincing. There is no evidence here that horses were reintroduced to the Americas before the Spanish. The best this article has done is created doubt that horses went extinct in America when originally thought, though this is tepid at best. This is also not a new idea among professionals. The date of the extinction of the American wild horse is not written in stone, and if adequate evidence it provided to shift the date, the date will move. Such evidence needs to be provided first, however, in both cases.


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References:

Clarkson, Neil
2012 Why did horses die out in North America? Horse Talk. November 29, 2012. http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2012/11/29/why-did-horses-die-out-in-north-america/. Retrieved 12/31/2016

Downer, Craig C.
2014 The Horse and Burro as Positively Contributing Returned Natives in North America. American Journal of Life Sciences. Vol. 2, No. 1, 2014, pp. 5-23. http://article.sciencepublishinggroup.com/pdf/10.11648.j.ajls.20140201.12.pdf. Retrieved 12/31/2016

Graham, Russell Wm and H. Gregory McDonald
2002 In Memoriam: Elaine Anderson, 1936-2002. Mammoth Trumpet, Volume 17 No 3:8-9. http://csfa.tamu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/vol17_num3.pdf. Retrieved 12/31/2016

Harris, Arthur H.
2013 Pratt Cave. Pleistocene Vertebrates of Southwestern USA and Northwestern Mexico https://www.utep.edu/leb/pleistnm/default.htm. Last Update: 28 Jan 2013. https://www.utep.edu/leb/pleistnm/sites/prattcave.htm. Retrieved 11/16/2016

Jones, Steven E.
2017 Horses in America Before Columbus. The Lost History of Ancient America. Pg. 15-18. Frank Joseph Editor. The Career Press. Wayne, NJ.

Jones, Steven E.
Nd. Exciting article about by Ph.D. Steven Jones re: more recent surviving native horse in North America. The Wild Horse Conspiracy. http://thewildhorseconspiracy.org/2013/07/02/exciting-article-about-by-phd-steven-jones-re-more-recent-surviving-native-horse-in-north-america/. Retrieved 12/31/2016

Joseph, Frank
2017 The Lost History of Ancient America. Edited Volume. The Career Press. Wayne, NJ.

Kirkpatrick, Jay F. and Patricia M. Fazio
2008 The Surprising History of America’s Wild Horses. Live Science. July, 24th. 2008.
http://www.livescience.com/9589-surprising-history-america-wild-horses.html Retrieved 12/31/2016

Lundelius, E. L., Jr.
1979 Post-Pleistocene mammals from Pratt Cave and their environmental significance. Pp. 239-258, in Biological investigations in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park (H. H. Genoways and R. J. Baker, eds.), National Park Service Proceedings and Transactions Series 4:1-442. https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/gumo/gumo_biological_investigations.pdf. Retrieved 11/16/2016

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