Monday, July 11, 2011

Pleistocene Horse



Twenty two years ago the Federal government "eminent domained" the Shackleford Banks and declared it a "Wilderness Area". According to the Wilderness Act, all non-indigenous animals in the wilderness must be removed if possible. The Island had been used to pasture live stock by the colonist for hundreds of years. None of the cows, sheep, goats or horses where native to north America except for the ancient ancestors of the modern horse. It was not that upsetting when the Feds. removed the live stock, brought from Europe, and the Middle East. When the removal of the "banker ponies" began the local citizens felt a little "civil disobedience" might get the attention of the Park Service. Unfortunately, the park service building on Harkers Island was burned down during this period of unrest. The definition of non-indigenous is, any plant or animal that was not in North America when Columbus arrived in 1492. That worked well for most of the Live stock but not for the horses. The modern horse owes its origin to North America. Many dog size three towed "dawn horses" wandered the continent over millions of years, speciating into as many as 33 different types before finally narrowing down to the basic horse form we recognise today. The modern horse then wandered across the frozen dry land known as Baringia into western Asia. The migration continued for hundreds of thousands of years evolving into donkeys and two modern species of Zebras In the Middle East and Africa. The modern horse, in Europe, was depicted on cave walls in southern France 35,000 years ago. Perhaps 5,000 years ago the modern horse was domesticated in central Asia and the rest is history. The conquistadors, from Spain, brought horses back to North America to complete a total circumnavigation of the globe.
Here's the mystery. When Columbus and a whole host of European travelers arrived they found no horses in North America. There are records from the Jamestown colony mentioning that they had hunted horses to eat. Where these horses the remnants of the original American horse or where they escapees from Spanish explores that had arrived 100 years before the English colony in Virginia?
About 12,500 years ago a small group of artisan hunters, skilled in making very fine spear and arrow heads, crossed the Bearing Straights on ice and land. During this time the earth was in a warming phase creating profound environmental changes. Climate change and hunting pressure from the migrating Asians and ,perhaps, disease carried by their dogs, caused the extinction of the North American Megafauna, including the horse.
I tell you all of this only because while poking around the shallow water adjacent to the park boundary I spotted an object in the water that resembled a horse tooth. Upon examination, I determined it was from a horse and tucked it into my pocket. I was happy to find what I thought was a molar from one of the island ponies. Oh yes, I forgot to tell that a simple phone call to our local congressional representative and an impending election solved the horse removal problem. Mr.Jones gladly submitted a bill to congress exempting our ponies from that pesky "federal mandate" to remove all non-indigenous animals. He also was hoping to head off the burning of the "new park service building" on Harkers Island. The horses stayed and so did the building.
When I arrived back at the dock, in Beaufort, and said good by to my guests for the day, I decided to look at the tooth again. Just as I pulled it from my pocket I noticed my favorite Paleontologist walking by the dock. As I approached, Richard remarked," Where did you get the Pleistocene horse tooth". My jaw dropped when it occurred to me that it did indeed look like the petrified teeth I had collected on the beaches of west Florida when I was a college student.
Now just imagine 13,000 years ago, sea level was at least 300ft lower then it is presently. The coast was 20 plus miles to the south and a North American horse, not a non-indigenous European horse, was standing 300 feet above sea level and either died or lost a tooth on that spot. Is that kool, or what? Proof positive that horses walked on, what is now, Shackleford Banks long before Christopher Columbus decided to pop in and ruin the aboriginal party that had been going on since the first Clovis hunters decided to have horse for dinner.
In the following weeks since I wrote this posting a guest, sailing with me, has found another horse tooth, as well as my self. On the 29th of August my Mate picked up a small molar which turned out to be a manatee premolar. It just gets better all the time. The small tooth in the middle is the manatee tooth. Some people get excited about gold and jewels an such. A 500,000 year old manatee tooth is good enough for me.

1 comment:

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