Archive for September, 2020

by Fred W. Anson
Yes, there were pre-Columbian horses in parts of the American continent. No, they weren’t as the Book of Mormon depicts them. How can I say that so emphatically and with such finality?

A: I have seen the skeletal remains of those pre-Columbian horses – and so can you. The footer art for this article is a photograph that I took of a skeleton of one at the George C. Page La Brea Tar Pit Museum in Los Angeles in 2016. It was exhumed from the Tar Pits back in the day and put on display. They have found several such skeletons in the Tar Pits, this is just the one that they have put on public display.

It’s about the size of a large dog – say a large Saint Bernard or a small Great Dane – and it would have been harmed if you used it the way the Book of Mormon describes the use of Pre-Columbian American horses: Riding them like a horse or using them to pull chariots.

Further, we know how and why these horses went extinct as soon as human beings arrived on the American continent: They were hunted down and eaten by the new human inhabitants of the continent. We know this not only because they suddenly go extinct shortly after the arrival of humans, but because they have found human teeth marks on the bones of these exhumed skeletons.

Evolution of the Pre-Columbian American Horse. The horses in the banner and footer photos from the La Brea Tar Pit Museum are Equus simplicidens skeletons.

The biggest nail in the coffin, in regard to Book of Mormon horses, is the timeline. From the neutral source Wikipedia:

“Equidae in North America ultimately became extinct, along with most of the other New World megafauna during the Quaternary extinction event during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago.”
(see Wikipedia, “Horses in the United States”)

This is well before the events of the Book of Mormon start to unfold. This is from the header notes of the current LdS Church edition Book of Mormon for 1 Nephi 18:

“The people arrive in the promised land. About 591–589 B.C.”
(see header notes for 1 Nephi 18, official LdS Church website)

Therefore, horses were long gone and extinct prior to the Book of Mormon people arriving on the American continent.

They were not to be seen again in the Americas until 1519. Again, from the neutral source, Wikipedia:

“Horses returned to the Americas thousands of years later, well after domestication of the horse, beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1493. These were Iberian horses first brought to Hispaniola and later to Panama, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and, in 1538, Florida. The first horses to return to the main continent were 16 specifically identified horses brought by Hernán Cortés in 1519.”
(see Wikipedia, “Horses in the United States”)

So the bottom line is that horses simply did not exist on the American continent in any form during the Book of Mormon period. The timeline is off – and by not just a few years, but by thousands of years.

In addition to all the above, another problem that the Book of Mormon has is that not all horse breeds can be domesticated. For example, you may have wondered why you don’t see them riding Zebras in Africa. The answer is simple: They are mean ornery creatures that don’t like people and will flee, bite, and fight even in captivity. The following article explains the difference:

“The kick of a zebra can break a lion’s jaw. They can be savage biters and possess a ‘ducking’ reflex that helps them avoid being caught by lasso. Familiarity with human hunter-gatherers may also have fostered a strong avoidance response in the zebra.

All of this means that zebra are not really “people friendly” and as a species they do not fit the criteria for domestication.

According to the English explorer and polymath Francis Galton (a relative of Charles Darwin), these requirements include displaying a desire for comfort, being easy to tend, being useful and showing a fondness for man.

Galton uses the zebra as an example of an unmanageable species, stating that the Dutch Boers repeatedly tried to break zebra to harness. Although they had some success, the wild, mulish nature of the animals would frequently break out and thwart their efforts. Although it appears possible to tame individual zebra, this species was not a good candidate for domestication.”
(Carol Hall, “Here’s Why Zebras Have Never Been Domesticated”, Science Alert website, September 23, 2016; )

At this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with the Pre-Columbian horses of America. Quite simply, everything. The last species of Pre-Columbian horses on the American continent was Equus simplicidens which is also known as the “Hagerman horse”, the “Hagerman zebra” and the “American zebra” – the last two because in terms of speciation it’s closer to modern zebras than modern horses. Again from the neutral source Wikipedia:

“The Hagerman horse first appeared about 3.5 million years ago. It was approximately 110–145 centimeters (43–57 inches) tall at the shoulder. It weighed between 110 and 385 kilograms (243 and 849 pounds). An average Hagerman horse was about the same size as an Arabian horse. It also was relatively stocky with a straight shoulder and thick neck, like a zebra, and a short, narrow, donkey-like skull.

The horse probably lived in grasslands and floodplains, which is what Hagerman was like between three and four million years ago. Native North American horses became extinct about 10,000 years ago, at the same time as many other large-bodied species of the period.”
(see Wikipedia, “Hagerman Horse”)

Of course, we don’t have any Equus simplicidens horses to observe or test for temperament, but if the speciation is correct, then its entirely possible that the reason why they were killed off for food by the American aboriginals is that since they couldn’t be domesticated they were more valuable as a protein source than as beasts of burden and/or other forms of human helper.

Size comparison between the earliest Pre-Columbian American horse and a modern horse.

To summarize and review:

  1. The indigenous American horses were too small to be safely ridden by people or pull chariots as they are depicted doing so in the Book of Mormon.
  2. Regardless of the prior point, not all breeds of horses are capable of being domesticated. Given their speciation it’s entirely possible that indigenous Pre-Columbian horses were more akin to undomesticable modern zebras than domesticated modern horses.
  3. The above two points aside, and for whatever reason, the American aboriginals hunted the indigenousness American horses to extinction.
  4. Even without the above three points, the timeline is still WAY off. There simply were NO indigenous American horses on the American continent when the Book of Mormon people arrived here. Period.

Conclusion
No matter how you slice it, or how you consider the evidence, the nature and use of horses in the Book of Mormon are both at odds with and in conflict with the empirical body of evidence. The problem isn’t that we’re lacking the evidence to prove the Book of Mormon’s claims, the problem is that the wide, broad, and deep body of evidence that we have regarding pre-Columbian horses on the American continent utterly discredits the Book of Mormon’s equestrian claims.

A photo of one of the La Brea Tar Pit Museum horse skeletons taken by the author in 2016.

Appendix: References to Horses in the Book of Mormon
“And it came to pass that we did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem. And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance.

And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men. And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper.”
— 1 Nephi 18:24&25

“Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots.”
— Alma 20:6

“Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.”
— 2 Nephi 12:7

“None shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken;

Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.”
— 2 Nephi 15:27&28

“And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.
— Enos 1:21

“And the Lord began again to take the curse from off the land, and the house of Emer did prosper exceedingly under the reign of Emer; and in the space of sixty and two years they had become exceedingly strong, insomuch that they became exceedingly rich—

Having all manner of fruit, and of grain, and of silks, and of fine linen, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things;

And also all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep, and of swine, and of goats, and also many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man.

And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.”
— Ether 9:16-19

“Therefore, there was no chance for the robbers to plunder and to obtain food, save it were to come up in open battle against the Nephites; and the Nephites being in one body, and having so great a number, and having reserved for themselves provisions, and horses and cattle, and flocks of every kind, that they might subsist for the space of seven years, in the which time they did hope to destroy the robbers from off the face of the land; and thus the eighteenth year did pass away.”
— 3 Nephi 4:4

“And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies.”
— 3 Nephi 3:22

“And now it came to pass that the people of the Nephites did all return to their own lands in the twenty and sixth year, every man, with his family, his flocks and his herds, his horses and his cattle, and all things whatsoever did belong unto them.”
— 3 Nephi 6:1

“Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;

And I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strongholds.”
— 3 Nephi 21:14&15

Size comparison of a modern man relative to the last of the Pre-Columbian American horses, the Hagerman horse (aka “Equus simplicidens”)

(Banner art: Infographic for the “Hagerman Horse” which was the last of the Pre-Columbian American horses and the animal whose skeleton you will see the author’s photograph of in the footer art of this article)