NSF Collaborative Research : Horses and Human Societies in the American West

This project uses historical and archaeological data to model human responses to one of the most important socio-environmental changes in human history: the dispersal of the domestic horse into the Americas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. After their introduction to the Americas domestic horses revolutionized life across the plains and deserts of North America, giving rise to the great horse cultures of the plains and deserts and forming the backbone of economically and militarily dominant Native empires during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Despite the obvious importance of horses in later history, however, gaps in the historic record mean that little is known about when, why, or how the first horses were first integrated into Native societies across most of the American West. Applying techniques including radiocarbon dating, ancient DNA sequencing, zooarchaeology, and stable isotopes analysis to ancient horse remains, this project produces a scientific model for when and how domestic horses dispersed into the continent, and in so doing explains the ways horses impacted life in early historic America. This project establishes an analytical framework for understanding the complex interaction between species dispersals, environmental changes, ecological factors, and cultural transformations that built our modern world.

Main coordinator : W Taylor, Univ. Colorado.