Pseudoarchaeological claims of Horses in the Americas

Horses of the Sand Wash Basin; photo courtesy of BLM.

Pseudoarchaeological claims of horses present in the Americas isn’t all that new. Recently, however, a new story started making the rounds on Facebook with a slightly different twist. Instead of trying to prove the introduction of the horse by the “lost tribe of Israel” or “the Philistines” as they settled the Americas a few thousand years ago, this story introduces something more plausible. Contrary to the current scientific consensus, horses, so the claim goes, didn’t go extinct in the Pleistocene and were not re-introduced post-contact. There are a lot of horse-lovers out there that get angry at people, like some cattle ranchers, who consider wild horses to be invasive specie and want herds destroyed rather than compete with their cattle on public grazing lands. So I expect this fuels some of this claim.

The claim itself isn’t necessarily crazy. I find the general notion that one or more species of Equus might have survived the Pleistocene to be an interesting scientific question. But that’s not the way Yvette Collin seems to approach the issue. In fact, her PhD dissertation (Collin, 2017) from the University of Alaska Fairbanks takes a decidedly pseudoscientific approach to addressing it.

In her dissertation, Collin’s stated purpose is to “deconstruct the history of the horse in the Americas and its relationship with the Indigenous Peoples.” She seems to begin with a conclusion—that there is a “Western science” seeking to “disregard, purposefully exclude, and reconfigure” the traditional knowledge of Native Americans. Ultimately, she’d like to “reconstruct the history of the horse in the Americas in a way that is unbiased and accurate.”

Toward this endeavor, she fails.

Let’s begin with the literature review

Collin seems to miss the point of the literature review. She describes non-written forms of information transmission by Native Americans (oral tradition, wampum belts, rituals, etc.) then goes on about how Natives were persecuted and oppressed until 1978 when Carter signed the Freedom of Religion act, etc.

She mentions how historians record the introduction of horses to the Indians in the 1690s but there are Spanish records that document Indians using horses as early as 1521 in Georgia and the Carolinas. It turns out she’s citing Richard Thornton who is citing Pietro Martire (Peter Martyr) d’ Anghiera’s De Orbo Novo [The New World] (Martyr D’ Anghiera, 1912)?, written in 1530.

One immediately wonders why she didn’t cite the original source. If she had, she might’ve noticed that Thornton, a pseudoarchaeologist, tells it like he wants it known. While Thornton mentions that one of Martyr’s key informants, a captured Native American named Francisco Chicorana, could “not confirm or deny the presence of horses,” he fails to mention that Martyr also wrote of the Americas having lions and tigers and a strange elephant-like beast that we would later understand be a tapir. While it would be easy to conflate a jaguar or puma with a lion or tiger seeing one for the first time, Martyr’s mentions of the horse and Chicorana’s inability to confirm or deny their presence in Duhare (modern Geogia/Carolinas area) isn’t as Thornton misleads one to believe. Martyr writes:

In place of horses, the king is carried on the shoulders of strong young men, who run with him to the different places he wishes to visit. At this point, I must confess, that the different accounts cause me to hesitate. The Dean and Ayllon do not agree ; for what one asserts concerning these young men acting as horses, the other denies. The Dean said: “I have never spoken to anybody who has seen these horses,” to which Ayllon answered, “I have heard it told by many people,” while Francisco Chicorana, although he was present, was unable to settle this dispute. Could I act as arbitrator, I would say that, according to the investigations I have made, these people were too barbarous and uncivilised to have horses.

Collin quotes Martyr directly only to include that last line which denigrates the Native American as inferior to the white Europeans.

To further explain why a proper literature review wasn’t possible, she goes on to describe how Native oral traditions are “precise” and “convey depth and detail in a way that modern-day languages and records are unable” (Collin, 2017, p.30). Collin points out that Native American languages often have many words for concepts like rain, snow, wind, etc., implying that this is what maintains fidelity of a concept being transmitted from one generation to the next.

She omits any agenda by individuals or groups to propagandize, elaborate, embellish or change stories to keep them relevant—all present in human cultures throughout the globe in both historic and prehistoric (i.e. pre-written) periods. Though Collin does provide many 16th century accounts of early visitors to the New World recording and documenting the horses that they spotted. How do we determine which of these are accounts of horses lost by previous expeditions (escaped after being brought off ship or from ships that sunk hitting reefs or rocks) and which of these are partial or pure embellishment meant to entice European benefactors into funding additional expeditions? The horse, after all, was a resource.

What she noticeably omits in this literature review are biological, paleontological, and genetic sources of information. If one has a hypothesis regarding the existence of a mammalian species, one expects these in the literature review. No doubt Collin would have us believe that Native American oral tradition is trustworthy because cultural tradition and linguistic style was guaranteed to ensure fidelity and preclude embellishment or omission of facts inconvenient to the narrative.

Physical evidence

So what physical evidence does Collin present? Within the literature review section of her dissertation, Collin describes a 3-inch clay horse figurine that was “found on Roods Creek about 2 miles from the Chattahoochee River.” Collin also describes a small stone horse effigy that “was found in a 1974 dig ‘near the Yuchi Creek near Fort Benning, Georgia.'”

As physical evidence goes, these items are pretty much useless. First, the source she’s citing is a pseudoarchaeological book on pre-Columbian visits to the Americas by white Europeans (Farley, 1993)?. Moreover, neither of these objects are with any context that can be dated or effectively described. The first was alleged to be found by a Catholic friar; the second was by a pair of boys digging in the bank of a creek (Farley, p. 342) (Collin, p. 47).

Read Collins’ account carefully:

…and that “Manford Metcalf of Columbus, Georgia, put into my hand a small stone effigy which resembled a horse head,” which was found in a 1974 dig “near the Yuchi Creek near Fort Benning, Georgia.”

And now Farley’s original passage:

At the same 1979 symposium, Manford Metcalf of Columbus, Georgia, put into my hand a small stone effigy which resembled a horse head. He explained that his boys had found it in 1974 while digging in the side of a hill near the Yuchi Creek near Fort Benning, Georgia.”

As an archaeologist, I can tell you there’s a definite distinction between “a 1974 dig” and “boys digging in the side of a hill in 1974.” This is a blatant mischaracterization—a borderline lie—by Collins.

Rock art and geoglyphs

Collin is correct when she says rock art motifs with a horse are considered as post-contact period motifs. But it isn’t because of a “dominant Western culture” or a refusal to date the rock art in other ways. It’s because this is an effective method of dating: use of motifs. Dating rock art is hard. Not just complicated or involved hard, but really hard. Sometimes it just cannot be done. The most effective methods are relative association of a motif or stylistic element with an event or period. Often the best dates that can be had are large ranges. Occasionally, a fairly well dated element will be of a pigment that overlaps or underlays another pigment in a consistent fashion, allowing the archaeologist recording the rock art to make some basic, relative assumptions about the dates.

While it is possible to do radiocarbon analysis on rock art, it’s an extremely involved and destructive process. Pigment has to be scraped from the rock art itself. Usually, the archaeologist looks for a recent spall for a sample candidate. Then the pigment has to be separated. There’s often a binder and an emulsifier along with the pigment material itself. If the archaeologist is very lucky, she’ll have sufficient quantities of one of these elements that happens to be from a formerly living organism and will, thus, have carbon 14 isotopes within it to test.

Very often, however, no viable sample is found and no one wants to go chipping away at the rock art willy-nilly. And, then, when a sample is successfully analyzed, there’s a crazy chance of error. But this is pigment-based rock art. Petroglyphs are a whole other problem. There really isn’t any effective way to date these. It’s possible to date the patina or lichens that begin to build up in the underlying strata after the cortex of the rock is removed by pecking. But this is a pretty rare thing.

One of the ways a patina can form is through a natural process of desert varnish, which is essentially the result of a bacteria that consume manganese and iron dust. Desert varnish (DV) takes thousands of years to form, but it is possible to measure the amount of minerals (Mn, Fe, and Pb) in a petroglyph that is slowly developing that patina of desert varnish again. Using a handheld, x-ray fluorescence device one can measure the pecked portion and the unpecked portions of rock, do some math, then look the age up on a calibration curve. The downside is that the technique is still a bit experimental and requires that the minerals above be present in the natural geology of the area.

One of the rock art examples that Collin cites is from 48th Unnamed Cave in Eastern Tennessee and dates to about 6000 years BP. Captions of the image simply say, “quadruped animal,” but she assumes this is a horse. A direct date was obtained using accelerated mass spectrometry (AMS) on a sample of charcoal pigment. But the date says nothing about the species of the animal. Visually, it’s a quadruped. Instead of citing the primary source (Simek, Cressler, Herrmann, & Sherwood, 2013)? directly, Collin curiously cites an internet news source (Smith, 2013)? and criticizes that writer’s characterization of cave art in the region of East Tennessee as including “otherworldly characters, supernatural serpents and dogs…” by saying “this interpretation of the pictographs illustrating large quadrupeds accompanying people makes little sense culturally,” as if she knew what people 6000 years ago were thinking.

Had she looked at the original source, Collin would have read that the inclusion of canids (dogs, wolves, coyotes) in the local cave art was far from uncommon. And she would have seen an image that was clearly of a group of canines as example. But this might not be her actual complaint since she also says, “no dogs near the dimensional size illustrated in these pictographs were known to exist…” Collin is clearly under the mistaken belief that rock art will only include imagery that is to scale.

The Horseman of Alto de Pitis, a petroglyph. Photo from Marteen van Hoeck.

Another rock art example Collin uses as evidence that horses were in the Americas in pre-contact times is a pictograph element at Alto de Pitis in Peru. The description (van Hoek, 2013)? as a horse with rider dating to after 1540 is refuted by Collin based on a blog post from (DowDell, 2016)?, which she agrees with. She derides van Hoek for not bothering to date the rock art without bothering to describe what dating method would possibly be appropriate for this panel. I honestly don’t know if Alto de Pitris would be a good candidate for XRF dating or not, but van Hoek did, indeed, date this element of the panel, but with relative dating based on the understood existence of the horse in Peru.

Also, among the physical evidence Collin presents for pre-contact horses are the Blythe Intaglios, a set of geoglyphs near Blythe, California in the Colorado Desert. Two of these are of quadrupeds that are generally accepted to be mountain lions. They certainly don’t resemble horses other than being quadruped. While the Blythe Intaglios are often said to be at least 1,000 years old, their actual date is unknown, mainly due to the “lack of associated time-sensitive artifacts and charcoal-bearing features” (Gilreath, 2007 p. 289).

With the geoglyphs, Collin also leans on the words of Craig Downer, who advocates for wild horses and burros to not be seen as invasive. Reviewing his bibliography for the work Collin cited, we see the familiar pattern of going to pseudoscientific sources like the magazine Ancient American—another entity, like NephiCode, with an agenda for arguing that Mormons and Jews were the ancestors of Native Americans.

Downer writes of his own discovery of alleged horse petroglyphs that he personally dated to over 1,000 years old. The method of dating? He visually compared the patina hues (Downer, 2014)?. No XRF device. No long-term study of patination and the associated color hues and patterns. No indication at all of what comprised the patina. So it is not at all surprising, Downer’s article was published in the American Journal of Life Sciences, which is listed on Beal’s List of Predatory Journals (

Skeletal Remains

Collin continues citing fringe and pseudoarchaeological sources in her PhD dissertation to the point that it just becomes hard to trust any of her sources. There’s a variety of post-contact Equus remains that she describes and the occasional discovery that is alleged to be pre-contact. Such as the Pratt Cave excavations by Ernie Lundelius. Collin now cites another fringe writer (S. E. Jones, 2012)? who spoke of Pratt Cave, where two horse bones were recovered (a metapodial and a portion of a phalanx), both on the surface of the cave interior.

Radiocarbon dating of samples at strata below the surface revealed the oldest date in the cave to be 2820 +/- 180 years BP (Lundelius, E. L., 1979)?. That didn’t keep Jones from stating that there was a date range of 6020 to 5890 BCE for bones deposited on the surface after the samples below that dated to a maximum of about 870 BCE! Ludelius states in his paper on Pratt Cave that the surface bones were from a “small form about the size of an ass” and, although he couldn’t be sure if it was domestic or feral, it was certainly modern and likely introduced to the cave by a predator. It would seem that Jones is pulling data from thin air since he offers no citation that explains the extreme age he claims. Lundelius certainly didn’t use that age and confrmed as much in personal correspondance with me.

Not without a single surprise, Jones’ article was published first in Ancient American magazine a fringe, hyper-diffusionist periodical that features many articles about how ancient peoples in the Americas had contact and help from smarter, more technologically advanced, white people from places like Europe well before Columbus arrived. Collin also cites another set of excavated horse bones that Jones also discussed in that same article. In doing so, she cites the original publication directly, but leaves out a critical observation that points to their conclusion: cut marks on the bone from a steel tool. Eckles and his colleagues acknowledge that bone occasionally produces young results (this is because of younger material clinging to buried bone) but agree that the upper limit of their obtained radiocarbon dates (after the mid 17th century) is realistic and that this is an early historic site in Wyoming (Eckles, Lockewood, Kumar, Wedel, & Walker, 1994)?.


Collin begins her dissertation with a clear chip on her shoulder for so-called “mainstream academia” and “Western science.” There is no “western” science. There is science. The methods of which work regardless of where you are geographically or what your ethnicity is. That’s the wonderful and marvelous thing about science is that it can be wielded by even the most oppressed or marginalized among us if its methods are adhered to. The only real trick is to observe the universe in a logical fashion and record data in a manner reasoned enough that it will provide consistent results.

While Collin rightfully pointed out the presence of bias among non-indigenous or non-Native researchers, she also pledged to overcome any bias of her own. She failed. From the outset. Her abstract revealed a conclusion that she began with and proclaimed the data she would find. No serious attempt was shown in her work to falsify her hypothesis, indeed, her null hypothesis was unclear: what would show her to be wrong as she gathered data?

The importance of having indigenous researchers and scientists around the world answering questions and exploring the heritage of their own people cannot be overstated. This is all the more reason why such an endeavor should be undertaken in a manner that places the work in a position that is as close to being beyond reproach as possible. Indeed, this should be a goal of any legitimate research endeavor.

Reliance on sources so questionable as to be considered pseudoscientific, pseudoarchaeological, and pseudohistoric, however, has the effect of diminishing any research endeavor to the fringes of science at best. It places doubt on any future work the researcher produces. And it taints the reputations of those that academically validate it. But more importantly, when it comes to advancing indigenous or historically marginalized people, such works become obstacles to those that deserve that advancement.

Collin’s dissertation cites Ancient Origins, Richard Thornton, and Dell Dowdell, and each of these sources variously or indirectly promote ideas about Native Americans which can be considered racist. Dowdell, the creator of, actively promotes the notion that Native Americans are the descendants of white Mormons and he believes the Earth is only as old as one of the cave paintings mentioned earlier in this article. Conspiracy theorist Richard Thornton publishes pseudoarchaeological claims of Maya settlements in Georgia. And Ancient Origins is a website that traffics in all manner of fake, fraudulent, and fantastic archaeological news, books, and media for profit. Authors they promote range from racists to general conspiracy theorists.

Coming across any one of these in a dissertation for a PhD should be enough to put all that dissertation’s sources in question. There were, perhaps, a dozen or more questionable sources of this caliber.

I’m certainly not categorically opposed to the idea that Equus may have survived the Pleistocene extinction and continues even today. This, I think is a perfectly valid, scientific hypothesis. But it’s one that should be tested using science. Not “Western science.” Not through the lens of non-indigenous academia. It should simply be tested with science, a set of methods available to anyone willing to use them regardless of geographic origin, cultural affiliation, or ethnic heritage.

References and Further Reading

Collin, Y. R. H. (2017). The Relationship Between the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth (University of Alaska Fairbanks). Retrieved from

DowDell, D. (2016). The Horseman of Alto de Pitis – Part III. Retrieved from website:

Downer, C. C. (2014). The Horse and Burro as Positively Contributing Returned Natives in North America. American Journal of Life Sciences, 2(1), 5.

Eckles, D., Lockewood, J., Kumar, R., Wedel, D., & Walker, D. N. (1994). An Early Historic Period Horse Skeleton from Southwestern Wyoming. The Wyoming Archaeologist, 38(3–4), 55–68.

Farley, G. (1993). In Plain Sight: Old World Records in Anceint America. Columbus, GA: ISAC Press.

Gilreath, A. J. (2007). California Prehistory: Rock Art in the Golden State. In T. L. Jones & K. A. Klar (Eds.), Colonization, Culture, and Complexity (pp. 273–290). Lanham, MD: Rowman Altamira.

Jones, S. E. (2012, January). Were There Horses in the Americas Before Columbus? Ancient American, 5–6.

Lundelius, E. L., J. (1979). Post-Pleistocene mammals from Pratt Cave and their environmentalsignificance. In H. H. Genoways & R. J. Baker (Eds.), Biological Investigations in the Guadalupe Mountains, National Park, Texas (pp. 239–258). Washington D. C.: National Park Service, Proc.

Martyr D’ Anghiera, P. (1912). De Orbe Novo (F. (trans. . MacNutt, Ed.). Project Gutenberg reproduction ed.

Simek, J. F., Cressler, A., Herrmann, N. P., & Sherwood, S. C. (2013). Sacred landscapes of the south-eastern USA: Prehistoric rock and cave art in Tennessee. Antiquity, 87(336), 430–446.

Smith, M. (2013). Ancient Tennessee Cave Paintings Show Deep Thinking by Natives. CNN Online, June 23(Sunday). Retrieved from

van Hoek, M. (2013). The Horseman of Alto de Pitis, Peru: A Post-Columbian Outsider in a Pre-Columbian Landscape. Retrieved from

About Carl Feagans 398 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.


  1. Although I agree with your conclusions on her paper, I can’t tell if you are just attacking her non-scientific inference, or… What is the point of your argument?
    I saw no reference to the evolution of the horse (and just for fun, camels too) began in what is now the western United States. Regardless of extinction, then reintroduction, or equus always being here, the scientific fact is that horses are indigenous to the Americas. So, what is the point of the article?

    • Tony, I think that’s actually a very valid critique of what I’ve written. I really wanted to dive in a little more with the evolution of the horse in the Americas, its apparent eventual extinction, then reintroduction. But I realized that this post was getting really large already. I suspect one could write a dissertation on her dissertation very easily.

      As I see it, there are three main issues:

      1) the unscientific nature of her dissertation, which I tackled in this post
      2) the real scientific consensus regarding equine evolution and why it’s valid
      3) the possibility that there’s a growing trend with ethnic and indigenous studies that is doing more than offering opportunities for indigenous and ethic researchers to explore their own heritages and share them with the world; but also allow for pseudoscientific conclusions to fill some of the spaces created by these opportunities.

      If I can call this post “Part I,” I’d like to say it’s really exploring the deficiencies of her dissertation and offering those reading the story out there on the internet a place to see a counter-view.

      I think I’d like to do a Part II in which I explore the evolution. It’ll take a bit of reading on my part though.

  2. As with Corey, I’d like to know if this actually got past the dissertation committee, but I seriously doubt that it’s the only paper like this going through the academic community at this time.

    All said, I look forward to the part two, the how we know what we know is always the most interesting part of the story.

      • A lot of actual pseudo excuses and denial here in the comments by would-be academics and or scholars, relying on archeology as fact opposed to theory.
        When a supposed experts point out omission and then omits points of study themselves, and refers to real science as ultimate knowledge, that is the epitome of pseudo-ism.

        • First, thanks for taking the time to comment! I truly appreciate it!

          I am, however, curious what you mean by “pseudo excuses and denial.” Did you have some specific examples in mind? I don’t pretend to know the academic or scholarly experiences of all (or even some) of the people who comment here, but archaeology is a scientific discipline that seeks out facts and data like any other.

          It has, of course, its theoretical underpinnings when it comes to research design, but I suspect you’re referring more to the conclusions of that research as being theoretical. In some cases, it is. In others, only hypotheses can be arrived at. As with any scientific endeavor, archaeologists hope that their hypotheses and discoveries might rise to the level of creating a theoretical state, or at least contributing to an overall theory, such as the “peopling of the Americas,” “development of agriculture,” “stratification of society,” etc.

          But I think I’m most confused by your last statement. I’m not sure what you mean by a “pseudo-ism.” I get that you are implying a “fake condition” of some sort as following a set of premises that include “supposed experts” who “point out omissions” of some sort, while omitting “the points of study.”

          Could you specify which experts; which omissions; and which point of which study?
          For clarity?

          • Good morning Carl,
            Here are my humble thoughts on scientific discovery weather defined as realist or idealist, then taken as right or wrong.
            It’s interesting that several species of animals that were claimed by science to be extinct, have been re-“discovered” and an estimated thousands to millions of animals remain undiscovered.
            As far as Realist versus Idealist as a boundary between pseudo and fact, aren’t scientist who strive to prove their hypothesis and theories of discovery as knowledgeable realism,actually pendant idealist… That need to reevaluate the idealist tradition of reifying science as the sole agent that drives the development and transmission of reliable knowledge.

          • Rediscovering species thought to be extinct happens every year. Over 80% of these remain on the highly threatened list. Over 60% are amphibians and birds, with about 40% mammals. But I’m not sure why it’s relevant to my critique of Running Horse’s dissertation.

            Also, good scientists generally try to falsify their hypotheses rather than prove them.

            I’m afraid I don’t understand what was intended by the last sentence.

            Was there anything, specific, in the article above that critiques Running Horse’s dissertation that you found inaccurate, wrong, or otherwise troublesome?

        • I’m referring specifically to the comments that imply oral teachings and knowledge are mooted by written text. A person here claimed that oral teachings via stories from Indigenous Peoples are a failure.
          Not to deflect from the original blog, but archeology is a study that uses western scientific methods. To claim archeology as a science is “pseudo’ism”.
          I know Yvettte Running Horse, she’s not employed as an archeologists. In fact, she works with horses.
          No disregard Carl, but this blog implies negativity towards Yvette and Native knowledge in general.
          Also to point out and add to the discussion,while not trying to deflect or divert, I will bring up a few things that are still spoken from complete memory in my culture.
          I know people that can recite the entire Kaianerekowa (Great Binding Peace). That in itself would take days.
          Those same people can recite the entire Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen (the Words that Come Before All Else).
          That also would take hours.
          It’s sadly amusing that you’ve sparked criticism as a archeologist working for the federal government, and critical of a Native woman’s accomplishments.
          Here’s something for your readers to ponder as a completely pseudo PhD. Carlos Castaneda. He made millions from his faulty and outright fabrications that earned him a PhD.
          Skennen Kowa and Niawen for your timely reply.
          (Much Peace) and (thank you).

          • “I’m referring specifically to the comments that imply oral teachings and knowledge are mooted by written text. A person here claimed that oral teachings via stories from Indigenous Peoples are a failure.”

            On the contrary, I find oral stories of indigenous peoples valuable and worthy of respect. I don’t, however, believe that they are infallible. They are, after all, orally transmitted traditions by Homo sapiens. And there is ample evidence that H. sapiens are capable, willing, and often eager to embellish stories or just plain misremember things told to them all in a single generation. Now add a few dozen generations.

            “archeology is a study that uses western scientific methods. To claim archeology as a science is “pseudo’ism”.”

            That’s the cool thing, though. There is no such thing as “western scientific methods.” Sure, there are “western” biases. As there are “eastern” biases. And Native American biases. Science seeks to exclude bias as best it can. Science does not belong to the west. Or any other cardinal direction, geographic location, or ethnic origin.

            Science is simply a systematic way for carefully and thoroughly observing nature and using consistent logic to evaluate results. What part of that is exclusive to “western culture?” Being systematic? Careful? Thorough? Using consistent logic?

            I don’t know Running Horse. Yet I’ve no doubt she loves horses. But she is wrong about the science included in her dissertation, which does Native culture a disservice. Perhaps her other accomplishments make up for it. I truly hope so. I covered her only because she made her dissertation public and used that publicity to make pseudoscientific claims about the nature of the horse in the Americas.

            You mention my employment as a federal archaeologist along with my criticism of a native woman as sadly amusing. Being sadly amused is not an emotional state I’m familiar with, so I’ll take your word for it. But let me be clear: I don’t critique her as a representative of a federal agency. And, quite frankly, not even as an archaeologist. In fact, I don’t critique her at all–certainly not as a native woman. I critique her dissertation and its conclusions. It’s faulty. It’s incomplete. It’s wrong on many counts. It’s many things, but it isn’t scientific.

            I’m a person who feels deeply that science belongs to all. Not just western, white people. Or any other geo-ethnic population. All people. Native people were doing science in North America long before Europeans came along with their colonizing mentality. That bit I mentioned about carefully and thoroughly observing nature followed by the consistent logic? THAT’s what they were doing: watching animals, seasons, plants, the sky, and everything else in their universe. Native peoples were able to learn what was good to eat and when; what could be planted; what would prevent infection; when to move their people to find shelter during winter; and so on.

            I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier, this has been a busy season for me.

            Thanks for your patience,


  3. Which is of course the problem with dissertations like this, the average reader does not look into the sources, only that it was awarded.

    In Australia an anti-vaxxer managed to get a conspiracy laden dissertation on vaccine policy past the reviewers for an Arts degree (I think it was in communications.) and now uses the degree to get into court cases as an ‘expert witness’

  4. The notion that all indigenous oral traditions are precise is laughable. Napoleon Chagnon’s work on Yanamamo oral traditions is a good illustration of how various details of a story can change significantly in a relatively short time, let alone centuries or thousands of years. The Telephone Game scenario is a human universal. That’s not to say that Native oral traditions, or any one else’s oral traditions can’t be of some value.

    Collin’s Ph.D. is in “Indigenous Studies.” Looks like her dissertation chair is more of an Education studies type. Makes me feel a little better that it is not an actual Anthro Ph.D.and that she apparently wasn’t working with legitimate archaeology or ethnohistory types.

    Reminds me of the usual pseudoscientist strategy of saying “an old indian told me this happened 5,000 years ago so it must be true” and expecting it to pass muster as unimpeachable evidence.

  5. The dissertation committees in these settings tend to be interdisciplinary.In her defense I don’t get the impression that she is trying to spin it as anthropology or archaeology. I took a quick look at the diss online. It tops out at about 190 pages of actual text. Reminds me of some people in education that earned a Ph.D. with a diss. not even that long and based on about 6 weeks of field research. Take that for what it is worth…

    I took a look at some of the comments in response to the Indian Country Today write-up. There are at least a couple people there who aren’t drinking the Koolaid. Pointing out, for example, that there are plenty of Native American oral traditions and linguistic evidence which would indicate that horses were a new acquisition. That some Native Americans might eventually develop religious explanations for the presence of the horse as a gift from the creator (without saying exactly when said gift was given) could be readily assumed.

    • I definitely agree that it wasn’t a dissertation created to make a statement about anthropology or archaeology directly. But that’s what it did. Regardless of what field of study, the facts should be correct and the research worthy of a doctorate. Having a doctorate means you’re the expert–and media ignore the field of study for the most part. So, if a PhD / Doctor says, “the Pleistocene Equus never went extinct and Europeans didn’t reintroduce the horse to the Americas, then she’s making a broad statement about many hard and soft sciences, not simply speaking as an Indigenous Studies major.

  6. Well, to quote the Platoon Sgt. from the movie Platoon, there’s the way things ought to be and the way things are. The horse (pardon the pun) has long left the barn in terms some of these interdisciplinary programs producing various forms of scholarship and pedagogy that bleed through into pseudoscience. If it is any consolation, I doubt that any of her stuff will pass peer review unless it is at best “gray literature” publications and i don’t see her nailing down a tenure track job at Auburn University. So in terms of playing the system she may have hit a stand-up double but is never gonna make it to home plate.

    Given some of the things that she says in the diss. it will be interesting to see how the Hancock Brain Trust tries to spin this.

  7. The whole concept sounds like bad science. My real question is for you Carl. Is it very difficult living in a creationism environment in Kentucky,? I know what Murray is like from old friends. I’m glad you have outlet of blog and books. Keep up the good fight I love reading everything you have to say. Scott Woter
    Makes my teeth hurt (that may be the grinding).

  8. Including her Chair, her Dissertation Committee had seven members. I was able to find information, more or less immediately, about the academic specialties of five of them. Of those five, four are into the whole “other ways of knowing” or “indigenous knowledge” thing. (One is an Oceanographer.) The school itself also seems to be into that.

    The abstract for the dissertation is un-subtle about its pseudo-historical, pseudo-scientific aims. I had been intending to read the dissertation myself to see if this article was fair to it. But the un-subtle abstract renders that pointless. (I have copied and pasted the abstract after my signature. Many, many apologies to all, including the dissertation’s author, for the line breaks being so crappy. That’s the copy/paste process from PDF documents.)

    For my money the folk stories of a people are extremely valuable for telling us about the values of a people and how they view their own histories. Not for what these folks want to use it for, which is as a substitute for actual knowledge. (I note that I am also opposed to those folks, usually Archaeologists and Anthropologists, who want to ignore the stories of a people and focus solely on available, physical evidence as a means for understanding them — hence the horrendous over-statement of the importance of the discovery of the female Viking burials as something new when, really, it was just confirmation of what we knew already.)

    I understand where those folks are coming from. But I find their pseudo-historical approach to be a hurtful over-correction for years of Western oppression — and, in many ways, potentially opens an intellectual door through which even more oppression can slip through.

    -An Anonymous Nerd

    PS: And here’s that Abstract I promised you. Sorry for the crap line breaks.

    This research project seeks to deconstruct the history of the horse in the Americas and its
    relationship with the Indigenous Peoples of these same lands. Although Western academia
    admits that the horse originated in the Americas, it claims that the horse became extinct in these
    continents during the Last Glacial Maximum (between roughly 13,000 and 11,000 years ago).
    This version of “history” credits Spanish conquistadors and other early European explorers with
    reintroducing the horse to the Americas and to her Indigenous Peoples. However, many Native
    Nations state that “they always had the horse” and that they had well established horse cultures
    long before the arrival of the Spanish. To date, “history” has been written by Western academia
    to reflect a Eurocentric and colonial paradigm. The traditional knowledge (TK) of the
    Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, and any information that is contrary to the accepted
    Western academic view, has been generally disregarded, purposefully excluded, or reconfigured
    to fit the accepted academic paradigm. Although mainstream academia and Western science
    have not given this Native TK credence to date, this research project shows that there is no
    reason – scientific or otherwise – that this traditional Native claim should not be considered true.
    The results of this thesis conclude that the Indigenous horse of the Americas survived the “Ice
    Age” and the original Peoples of these continents had a relationship with them from Pleistocene
    times to the time of “First-Contact.” In this investigation, Critical Indigenous Research
    Methodologies (CIRM) and Grounded Theory (GT) are utilized in tandem to deconstruct the
    history of the horse in the Americas and reconstruct it to include cross-cultural translation, the
    TK of many Indigenous Peoples, Western scientific evidence, and historical records. This
    dissertation suggests that the latest technology combined with guidance and information from
    our Indigenous Peoples has the power to reconstruct the history of the horse in the Americas in a
    way that is unbiased and accurate. This will open new avenues of possibility for academia as a
    whole, as well as strengthen both Native and non-Native communities.

  9. I was reading that abstract and it reminded me of something I’ve heard from peddlers of free energy machines and psedomedical treatments over and over again:

    ” is incompatible with/beyond the remit of ‘Western’ science and so cannot be tested by it, nor should be be subjected to it.”

    Substitute ‘indigenous knowledge’ for and you see why most reasonable people have problems with these positions.

  10. Carl,
    Thank you for your reply, but for the life of me I can’t imagine why you were typing your reply at 3am in the morning. I appreciate all of the comments here by institutionally educated persons giving their opinionated views of Natives and Indigenous peoples from a rather white point of view.
    It has always interested me that the origin of archeology began with wealthy elites collecting artworks and artifacts of different cultures. Now it’s a science.
    It’s also interesting that archeologists and anthropologists frequently disagree in almost pre- warlike situations.
    Someone referred to Napoleon Chagnon in reference to oral teachings being laughable. As if Chanon was an expert linguist in Yanomami languages.
    That would be like saying Ives Goddard (is) an expert in Algonquin languages.
    As far as detailed data in written text being more accurate, well that simply isn’t a fact. I’ve read many inaccurate theories, formulae and outright trash published as scientific fact.
    Two things to ponder. One I mentioned before. Carlos Castaneda was granted a PhD from his totally mythical disertation. He made millions from that Yaqui Way of Knowledge.
    Secondly, and not to deflect, but you and all of the commenters (in the americas), are most probably residing on broken treaty, or Unceded territory.
    Incidentally, I am Kainenkehaka (Mohawk) Haudenosaunee, Onkwehonwe.
    Skennen Kowa. (Very much peace).

    • Regarding the 3am typing, it was actually 2:00 am to the best of my knowledge. I had a bit of insomnia 🙂 I think the time zone might be off on my hosting.

      Not for nothing, but archaeology *is* anthropology.

      I’m in agreement with you about Castaneda, broken treaty lands, and so forth.

      Was there anything specific in my article above you found incorrect? I’m happy to either accept correction or explain myself.

      • Here’s a relevant link to some very recent research in which Running Horse is actually mentioned.

        As I mentioned in my article above (about her dissertation), I would be elated to discover that the horse was always a part of North America. My issue is with the methods by which Running Horse sought to support that hypothesis. Inconsistent logic and use of questionable sources is a bad way to make an argument. I can’t imagine one would posit poor scholarship is acceptable if you’re First Nations. Obviously I’m not First Nations or Native American (as far as I’m aware). But I think if I were, the assumption that poor scholarship “is good enough” for Natives would piss me off.

        Anyway, I don’t rule out the notion the continuity of the horse in North America. I simply take issue with the methods Running Horse used in a dissertation that was supposed to have academic standards. That it was awarded the way it was devalues the overall PhD program of the university and might even send a message that the university doesn’t expect consistent scholarship from Native peoples.

    • I’ve used Chagnon’s films in my classes for years. He spent years doing field research among the Yanamamo and spoke the language fluently. He collected mountains of data on oral traditions and clearly demonstrated how particular narratives could differ according to speaker and location after just a few generations as villages fissioned and settlements expanded. The fact that he was not a linguist is irrelevant to the fact that his work did indeed demonstrate how quickly one can see variation emergence in oral tradition.

  11. I just checked her source on the purported Sir Francis Drake sighting of herds of horses in California, and it’s not bearing out. She cites Henry S. Burrage’s 1906 collection
    of early historians accounts (mostly Richard Haylukt) “Original Narratives of Early American History. Early English and French Voyages”, page 23.

    That book found here on

    Page 23 is in a section about one Jacques Cartier’s expeditions, and the only use of the word horse on that page is in describing the hairstyle of the indigenous people he encountered. There is a section about Sir Francis Drake starting on page 149 of the book (179 of this particular ebook/document), but no horses mentioned at all.

    Seems like a false citation to whitewash more Mormon apologetics. Egregious negligence at the very least.

  12. While this comment was under review, I found some of the contemporary sources for Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation that Burrage mentioned. I also would walk back the “whitewash more Mormon apologetics”–i dont know where the claim that Sir Francis Drake saw horses originates, but Collin did not invent it.

    Neither Sir Francis Drake’s (the nephew of the more famous Sir Francis Drake) 1628 “The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake” nor Richard Hakluyt’s 1589 “The Principall Navigations, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation” (unnumbered pages stuck in between pages 643 and 644) mention horses. Both just talk about “heardes of fat deere” lol. I’ll post the scans of those books in a separate comment–I think wordpress keeps comments with links in moderation limbo automatically. Anyway, it’s just more bad scholarship and falsehoods to say he saw horses.

  13. Thanks, this is all very good information. I was recently invited to speak on SkepTalk for the Bay Area Skeptics with Eugenie Scott, so I definitely appreciate the info and links. I think I have the site set to hold in queue at 3 links, by the way.

    • Awesome! Thank you for the mutual interes. Well the Drake account will be close to home for them, since most suppose he landed near SF.

      Here’s Richard Hakluyt, font sucks.

      “Our necessarie busines being ended, our Generall with his companie travailed up into the Countrey to their villages, where wee found hearses of Deere 1000, in a companie, being most large, and fat of bodie.”

      Again I see nothing in that part of the account that says horses, but the font is not latin alphabet and not searchable

      Later work, the 1635 reprinting of the 1628 “The World Encompassed”. From the same notes of Fletcher that Hakluyt used. Burrage seems to have been true to this source in the link in the first post.
      “infinite was the company of very large and fat Deere, which there, wee saw by thousands, as wee supposed, in a heard”

      Fat deer in a herd = horses obviously

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Horses in the Americas « Behind the Hedge
  2. Sorry everyone, but Nevada still does not have "wild" horses – The Nevada Independent – Blondie Acres

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