Today’s horse existed 57 million years ago, some of the oldest mammals, fox-sized, with 4 toes up front and three on the rear legs. The species genus, Equus grew over the millennium into what is known today as modern horses, asses, and zebras and the only surviving genus in this once diverse family of horses. It was in the glacier retreat of 11,000 to 13,000 ago, or known in archeology history as the “mass extinction” of mammals that included the horse but only in North America. In theory, the horses made their way from North America in migration northward over what was called the Bering Land Bridge into Siberia and Asia. The species then made their way to other neighboring continents except Antarctica and Australia.
Why did the extinction of the horse take place? There are a number of theories or hypotheses that have been written about this event. The most noted theory a “kill off,” or extreme hunting activity involving the Paleoindians or Clovis people that had migrated over the Bering Land Bridge from 12,000 to 15,000 years ago into North America. Another classic theory is that of climate change. It was at the end of the Ice Age, the climate was changing fast and most animals not being able to adapt either died off or moved out of the areas due to both a lack of adequate vegetation or with extreme temperature changes in the climate. Scientist also suggested that both scenarios contributed as well a disease epidemic could have helped wipe out the horse in North America. Finally there could have been a star explosion thus increasing the radiation into the North American hemisphere.
The Native Surviving Horse Theory
There is a notion of “Horses being Native” and has been deemed as a controversial hypothesis. This theory was hatched from sources of unpublished Paleontological data, and Native American stories. It is said that from those small bands of horses that survived here in North America, some may have breed with other horses introduced by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. This hypothesis could only be proved by horse bones that could be dated back to the late sections of the Ice Age up to the Spanish time era. It has written that wild horses were only a myth, yet bone data does exist to prove a reality to the above hypothesis. It was noted that in the Eighteenth century early explorers, mountain men and trappers on the Great Plains saw Native Americans on horseback. These animals often grazed with other game animals including the buffalo, antelope, elk and deer populations.
Next up: A History of Human and Horse Domestication