“‘Hard’ Evidence of Ancient American Horses” (Part 1)

“‘Hard’ Evidence of Ancient American Horses” (Part 1) January 17, 2020


Meadow, with white horse running
A white horse in a meadow with a guy (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


I’ve begun to extract notes from an article about Pre-Columbian horses in the Americas that appeared in 2015:  Daniel Johnson, “‘Hard’ Evidence of Ancient American Horses,”  BYU Studies Quarterly 54/3 (2015).  It will probably take me several blog entries to complete the extraction.  I thought that some here might find my notes (and potentially the article itself) of interest.


First of all, the author, Daniel Johnson, states the problem:


The suggestion of horses and chariots in pre-Columbian America has long been an easy target for critics of the Book of Mormon.  (149)


It’s the commonly held view that Pre-Columbian horses were long extinct by Book of Mormon times, and that horses were only reintroduced into the Americas after Columbus and the European “discovery” of the New World.  Yet the Book of Mormon refers to “horses,” which seems a clear case of serious anachronism.


Johnson contends that there is, in fact, evidence suggesting that horses existed in the Americas during Book of Mormon times:


However, although incomplete, the geological and archaeological record does provide support for horses and even wheeled vehicles in ancient America.  The extinction of the ancient horse and the origins of the modern horse in the Americas have become clouded and unsure in light of the latest research.  Much of this evidence is not questionable or even that new, but still, sadly, both critics and faithful members of the Church are unaware of it.  (149)


However, as of the time of his writing, he acknowledges that no “proof” is available:


Although hard evidence is available to consider, so far no incontrovertible proof of Book of Mormon horses exists — that is to say, physical remains conclusively dated to around 500 BC (and earlier) from supposed Book of Mormon lands are yet to be found.  (149)


And he offers essentially the same acknowledgement not only at the beginning of his article but at its conclusion:


Although available valid evidence is worth considering, the question of horses in the Book of Mormon has not been decisively answered and may never be resolved to anyone’s complete satisfaction.  (178)


Before surveying what evidence does exist, it’s important to be quite clear as to what the Book of Mormon actually says — and doesn’t say — about horses:


[T]he Book of Mormon does not ever say that anyone rode horses or used them in battle. . . .  Only twice are they mentioned along with chariots: once among the Lamanites (Alma 18:9-10, 12; 20:6) and once among the Nephites (3 Ne. 3:22).  All other instances of horses in the Book of Mormon (not including examples from the Isaiah chapters) describe them as among indigenous animals or kept in herds.  Book of Mormon readers can logically infer that their use was for transportation or as beasts of burden, but these uses are not specifically described.  It may be that they were also used as food.  (151)


To be continued.



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