Research collaboration examines the spread of domestic horses: UNM Newsroom


A researcher at the University of New Mexico is part of a collaboration studying one of the most significant socio-environmental changes in human history: the dispersal of the domestic horse in the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries centuries.

Anthropology Associate Professor Emily L. Jones is part of the collaboration between the University of Colorado Boulder, UNM, and the University of Oklahoma that just received a $ 300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the propagation of horses.

Jones is part of a collaborative team studying the spread of horses around the world. The domestication of the horse is widely recognized as a key transformative event in human prehistory. The initial domestication of horses has been linked to major changes in human mobility and social organization. Some of the team’s research focused on Eastern Eurasian horses was published earlier this year in Nature: Scientific Reports.

Domestic horses revolutionized life on the plains and deserts of western North America, Jones said. Horses made high-speed transport over long distances possible and created raiding-based economies, a transformation that had profound impacts on societies and environments.

“We hope to understand how the great Aboriginal ‘equestrian nations’ of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as the Apaches, Comanches and Lakota, came into being. They were and are an integral part of American history, but at this point little is known about the process by which the horse became so central to their cultures, ”explained Jones, director of the Department of Zooarchaeology laboratory. anthropology of UNM. as well as director of the graduate program in public archeology.

“By studying the remains of horses from archaeological sites dating from the early 16th and 17th centuries, we will be able to answer these questions. Our preliminary results suggest that horses became an integral part of some Indigenous societies much earlier than previously suggested, ”she added.

Researchers seeking to understand the complex interactions between current environmental and cultural changes are increasingly turning to historical data sets, which allow examining such interactions over the long term. This project uses historical and archaeological data to model human responses to the dispersion of the domestic horse in the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries.

“We visit museums across the American West, here in New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana, California and others to study the remains of domestic horses from 16th and 17th century archaeological sites. . We examine the bones to identify changes to these bones that suggest how horses were used by humans, for example, whether they were ridden and, if so, with or not. Specific changes in the bones can answer these questions for us, ”Jones said, noting a photo of a horse mandible with teeth showing signs of wear from a bit, part of the equipment. riding that goes into a horse’s mouth to control movement.

Some of the collaborating researchers will chat with Native Americans to incorporate their views on the history of the horses, Jones said, while others will date the remains using radiocarbon dating and use isotope analysis to tell them what the horses ate, whether they were “fed,” or given additional food by people to help them through the winter months, as well as how they moved through the landscape throughout The information will help produce a scientific model for when and how domestic horses dispersed across the continent, and thus explain the impact of horses on life in early historic America.

The results of the project are to be disseminated through scientific literature, popular media and a museum exhibit, as well as a series of seminars bringing together academics and indigenous leaders. In doing so, this project establishes an analytical framework for understanding the complex interplay between species dispersal, environmental changes, ecological factors, and cultural transformations that have shaped the modern world.

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