Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Question: When Did Horses Live in the Americas? Part I

Many historians believe that most of the development of horses began in the Americas. Scientists agree that the first horses (called Pliohippus) to evolve in North America appeared millions of years ago. According to them, for some unknown reason, horses (Equus) disappeared from the western hemisphere and were re-introduced by Spanish explorers (after Columbus) in the sixteenth century. In fact, scientists believe that most of the evolutionary development of the horse actually took place in North America, where they developed the very successful strategy of grazing (eating grass) rather than browsing (eating softer succulent leaves). These grazers, they say, evolved specialized teeth for processing the stiff and coarse grass that was at that time becoming very plentiful on the Great Plains of North America. At some point some of them crossed into the Old World via the Arctic-Asia land bridge. Then, suddenly, no one is absolutely certain why, between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago, horse (Equus) disappeared from North and South America.

When we couple this information with the knowledge that 1) horses, like all animals, did not evolve from a single cell amoeba, but were placed on the Earth by God—a concept not acceptable to scientists—and 2) that the Earth is only about 13,000 years old, then we have an interesting support in showing that horses existed in the Americas before the arrival of the Spanish, and during the times the Jaredites and Nephites occupied the Western Hemisphere.

Left: The Eques caballus (caballoid horse) introduced by the Spanish in 1519; Right: The Equus lambei (Yukon horse), a horse, according to fossil records, that represented the most recent Equus species in North America prior to extinction

It is interesting to note that critics of the idea that the North American wild horse is a native animal, using only paleontological data, assert that the species, Eques caballus (or the caballoid horse), which was introduced in 1519, was a different species from that which disappeared 13,000 to 11,000 years before. However, the relatively new (27-year-old) field of molecular biology, using mitochondrial-DNA analysis, has recently found that the modern or caballine horse, Eques caballus, is genetically equivalent to Equus lambei, a horse from the fossil record and now claimed to be extinct. In other words, DNA shows these horses to be the same.

Not only is Eques caballus genetically equivalent to Equus lambei, but no evidence exists for the origin of Eques caballus anywhere except North America. In addition, researchers who removed ancient DNA of horses from permanently frozen soil in central Alaskan permafrost dated the material at between 7600 and 10,500 years old. The findings suggest populations of these now-extinct mammals endured longer in the continental interior of North America, challenging the conventional view that these and other large species disappeared from the continent about 12,000 years ago.
So now we find that the so-called extinct horse of the fossil record, and the horses that the Spanish brought to the Americas in 1519, is the same horse, which only proves the scriptural record of 1) Noah took the horse from North America to the Eastern Hemisphere, and 2) the Jaredites brought the horse back to the Western Hemisphere.

In addition, science obviously does not know for certain when the last horses in the Western Hemisphere disappeared, or became “extinct” by their standards. Each new discovery brings the “extinct” horse in the Western Hemisphere closer to the present and certainly within the realm of the history as recorded in the scriptural record of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, especially when we realize the correct age of the Earth.

It is also of interest to note that scientists are now saying, “"Extinctions often seem dramatic and sudden in fossil records, but our study provides an idea of what an extinction event might look like in real time, with imperiled species surviving in smaller and smaller numbers until eventually disappearing completely." As an example, the Tarpan horse died out in the wild between 1875 and 1890, when the last known wild mare was accidentally killed during an attempt at capture. The last captive Tarpan died in 1909 in a Russian zoo.

Left: The only known illustration of a Tarpan (Turkish meaning “wild horse”) made from life, depicting a five month old foal by Borisov in1841; Right: Przewalski’s Horse, the only remaining type of "wild" horse that has never been domesticated

In addition, scientists also tell us that “Hard remains of animals are rarely preserved, are difficult to find, and are difficult to accurately date because of physical degradation.” As a result, MacPhee, Willerslev, Roberts and Froese date the dirt in which the animal remains are found.” According to Willerslev, director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen: "In principle, you can take a pinch of dirt collected under favorable circumstances and uncover an amazing amount of forensic evidence regarding what species were on the landscape at the time.” However, it would seem that the problem with this is that the landscape may be dated to a time long before the last horse roamed the area. As Richard Roberts, of the University of Wollongong in Australia, said: "We can be confident that the deposits from which the DNA was recovered haven't been contaminated since these lost giants last passed this way.” However, again, there is no way to know where else the animals roamed, and how long they lived since “they last passed this way.”

(See the next post, “Question: When Did Horses Live in the Americas? Part II,” for more on the existence of Book of Mormon mammals in the Western Hemisphere)

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