This is another post in my series on the subject of the survival of native American horses until recent historic times. We all know that according to the “official” story, horses originated in America, and moved on towards Asia where they thrived while they became extinct in the Americas during the Late Pleistocene. The New World spent about 10.000 years without horses until the Europeans reintroduced horses after Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492. The horse spread through the Americas at the pace of its Conquistadors and reached the southernmost tip of the continent in the 1700s.
I have read an interesting paper by Natalia Carden (2009), on Patagonian petroglyphs (rock carvings) that depict animal tracks, and, not so surprisingly, also horse tracks.
The image above is from her paper, which I will summarize below:
At Piedra de Museo, Santa Cruz, at the site known as Alero el Galpón (AEG), has several types of prints engraved in rock. Some of hem are cloven (i.e. guanaco prints), but others are definitively representations of one-digit ungulates such as horses.
Their hoofs are nearly circular and have a ‘V’ shaped notch on the rear part. The rocks have imprints that are very naturalistic as can be seen in the image above and image below (A). Other sites in Patagonia display similar designs but slightly more complex (B) and (C) below. Motif (C) has also been interpreted as a Labyrinth.
Carden addresses the age of these petroglyphs and the problem they present: rock engravings are Holocene and date from about 4,000 to 2,000 B.P. At the AEG site, the rock has been dated to middle/late Holocene some 7,400 years B.P.
Both lines of evidence, according to Carden would mean that the rocks are far too old to represent modern Old World horses brought by the Europeans and too young to represent Hippidion saldiasi New World horses, as these became extinct several thousands of years earlier (11 to 10,000 years B.P).
To explain how / why the Patagonian Paleo-Indians depicted extinct horse hoofs, engraving them in stone, Carden discusses the issue in diachronic terms: the prints were painted from memory, and re-signified by these natives who had never seen them.
Drawings like (B) and (C) are deformed due to this “re-signification”. The “memory” mentioned above is apparently a “mythical history”, and the horses are symbols of a mysterious past and reinterpreted. She puts forward as evidence the fact that “... the presence of Pleistocene bone remains in Holocene layers from the Patagonian and Pampean regions implies that fossils were collected by humans[...] and probably reinterpreted and imbued with symbolic meanings” .
She adds that the site may have been a good hunting ground and that the track petroglyphs are part of the mythical symbology of the “place”.
A very neat theory, well documented which fits nicely into the official view of Patagonian prehistory.
However, I am not constrained by Academia and can allow myself to be less cautious and fling some wild theories into the open: what if... the Pleistocene bone remains found in Holocene layers actually belonged to “Pleistocene” animals who survived well into the Holocene, and when they died, laid their remains in those Holocene layers without any human hands placing them there (perhaps we humans helped them pass away with our spears and arrows).
The theory that our distant ancestors dug up megafaunal fossils and gathered them in assemblies is a bit far-fetched. The simple answer is that the native American horses were alive and kicking at that time.
And, they were depicted from nature in the rocks.
 Carden, Natalia. (2009), Prints on the Rocks: a study of the track representations from Piedra Museo Locality (Southern Patagonia), Rock Art Research 2009- Volume 26, Number 1, pp.
Monstruos de la Patagonia - Criptozoologia, Mitos & leyendas de la Patagonia
Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall ©