“‘Hard’ Evidence of Ancient American Horses” (Part 3)

“‘Hard’ Evidence of Ancient American Horses” (Part 3) January 19, 2020


Horses in a mountain meadow
Horses grazing in an alpine meadow in Kyrgyzstan  (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)


In “‘Hard’ Evidence of Ancient American Horses’ (Part 1),” I began to extract notes from an article about possible Pre-Columbian horses in the Americas that appeared in 2015, surveying the state of the question at that time:  Daniel Johnson, “‘Hard’ Evidence of Ancient American Horses,”  BYU Studies Quarterly 54/3 (2015): 149-179.   I continue with that project, thinking that some might find my notes of interest:


Archaeologists note that indigenous New World cultures had no draft animals or beasts of burden.  (152)


However, Daniel Johnson notes, “at least the Maya did understand the concept”  (152).  He points, for example, to artifact Kerr #196 of the Maya Vase Database, which features a scene from a mythological tale involving the three stones of creation.  One of them is shown strapped to some sort of device which is, in turn, borne on the back of a deer.


Another artifact of arguably Pre-Columbian provenance (found in Oaxaca, Mexico) depicts a human rider mounted on some sort of unidentified animal.  (A photograph of the artifact can be found here.)  (See pages 152-153.)


But what about the Book of Mormon’s “chariots”?  Doesn’t that word imply the existence of wheels in Pre-Columbian America?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  [dcp note:  In Hebrew, the word that’s usually translated as chariot is merkava, which is also the name of a modern Israeli-made military tank.  The core idea of the root rkb or rkv, however, isn’t wheels but riding.  Thus, in Arabic, the obviously cognate word markab refers to either a horse’s saddle or a boat.]  But let’s assume that Book of Mormon chariots were wheeled.  One non-LDS archaeologist, Tim McGuiness, has suggested that wheels may have existed in the Pre-Columbian New World but that they were only in limited use and that the idea was lost.  (See pages 154-155.)


In fact, wheeled artifacts have been found from ancient America, most of them dating from the Late Postclassic, well before the Spanish arrival.  (155-156)


Although such wheeled toys, figurines, or effigies are now commonly known and accepted, no large-scale practical examples of working wheels have been found, so this outcome immediately raises the question, why not?  (156)


Unfortunately, there is, to this point, no good answer to the question.  Johnson cites the eminent mid-twentieth-century archaeologist Gordon Ekholm, longtime curator of anthropology for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, as pointing out that he knows of no case where such toys or models of a technology were common in which the technology remain unapplied for practical purposes.  He felt that the presence of wheeled figurines in the New World might be explained on the basis of contacts with other cultures in the Old World.  (156-157)


To be continued.



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