Horses hunted in North America 13,300 years ago, research shows

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Bones of a prehistoric horse found at Wallys Beach point to evidence that humans migrated to North America earlier than previously thought, according to a new study. Photo: Mike Waters.
Bones of a prehistoric horse found at Wallys Beach point to evidence that humans migrated to North America earlier than previously thought, according to a new study. Photo: Mike Waters.

Prehistoric Ice-Age people hunted horses and camels 13,300 years ago in North America, much earlier than previously believed, new research shows.

The research team examined the skeletal remains of seven horses and one camel found in an area called Wally’s Beach, about 80 miles south of Calgary in Canada.

The rolling prairies of central Canada were home to many types of animals that early hunters sought thousands of years ago.

These animals were killed in a small area close to a spot where they could ford the river, according to a team of researchers led by a Texas A&M University anthropologist, Mike Waters.

Radiocarbon dating of the remains shows that they were killed 13,300 years ago, at least 300 years earlier than hunters were previously believed to have been in the region.

This findings were based on 27 new radiocarbon dating ages determined in analysis of the bones.

A core tool associated with the camel remains. Photo: Mike Waters
A core tool associated with the camel remains. Photo: Mike Waters

“Our study shows that these early hunters were in this area long before Clovis inhabited the region, which were once thought to be the first hunters in this part of the world,” Waters explains.

“This study adds more information about the earliest inhabitants of North America and the role human hunters played in the extinction of large mammals at the end of the last Ice-Age,” Waters says.

The team found only simple core tools and flakes at the site that were used to take apart the carcasses. No spear points were associated with the kill sites.

Waters, who heads the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M, and colleagues from the University of Calgary and Aarhus University in Denmark, have had their work published in the current issue of PNAS – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Waters, Thomas Stafford, Brian Kooyman and L.V. Hills, said the archaeological discoveries at Wally’s Beach provided the only direct evidence of horse and camel hunting in the Americas at the end of the last Ice Age.

They said the seven horses and one camel were attacked and butchered near a river crossing by prehistoric hunters.

“Other North American kill and butchering sites show that prehistoric hunters preyed on six of the 36 genera of large mammals, called megafauna, for at least 2000 years before these animals became extinct, around 12,700 years ago,” they wrote in their findings.

“The tight chronological clustering of the eight kill localities at Wally’s Beach indicates these animals were killed over a short period.

Human hunting of horse and camel in Canada, coupled with mammoth, mastodon, sloth, and gomphothere hunting documented at other sites from 14,800 to 12,700 years ago, showed that six of the 36 genera of megafauna went extinct by about 12,700 years ago.

“This study shows the importance of accurate geochronology, without which significant discoveries will go unrecognized and the empirical data used to build models explaining the peopling of the Americas and Pleistocene extinctions will be in error.”

The project was funded by the North Star Archaeological Research Program and the Chair in First American Studies.

Late Pleistocene horse and camel hunting at the southern margin of the ice-free corridor: Reassessing the age of Wally’s Beach, Canada
Michael R. Watersa, Thomas Stafford Jr, Brian Kooyman, and L.V. Hills.
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1420650112

The abstract can be read here

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One thought on “Horses hunted in North America 13,300 years ago, research shows

  • March 26, 2015 at 4:21 pm
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    I have often suspected that ice age hunters might have caused the extinction of the horse in North America along with most of the other large animals. Now learning that the hunters were here much sooner than thought seems to explain what happened better than the idea of climate change. If the horses had never wondered across the then dry Bering Sea they would have been extinct. With the way they have been treated I wonder some time if extinction might have been a better way to go out than being slaughtered like they are now. And the sad part is that slaughter is what caused the extinction in North America to begin with.

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