6/29/2006

THE MYSTERY OF THE ANCIENT HORSES

by Janet A. Ginsburg

Introduction

Eohippus. Mesohippus. All the “hippi” and that led to horses. Growing up in Chicago, my favorite display at the Field Museum was, without a doubt, “The Evolution of the Horse.” Dinosaurs and mammoths may have been more popular, but the delicate forms of prehistoric horses, the toes that kept merging until they became hooves, the wide eyes, the grace, the family-tree of it all – nothing could compare with this skeletal herd, tucked away in a hushed and dim back hall. I was a horse nut girl. My copies of "Black Beauty" (both the picture book version and the “real” book by Anna Sewell), "Misty of Chincoteague," and basically anything by Marguerite Henry (illustrated by the incomparable Wesley Dennis) were well-thumbed and much loved. Model horses roamed the bookshelf range, while trusty stick-horse mounts munched imaginary hay in the stall over in the corner. The real stars of old “Roy Rogers” reruns? Trigger and Buttermilk, of course. Horses to me were simply a wonder.

I still look for horses whenever I go to natural history museums. So many fossils have been excavated that just about every museum of any size has a set. How could there have been so many, and then none at all?

The mystery deepened when I found myself on the Wyoming / Montana border, filming a television segment about a small band of horses, descendents of escaped Spanish conquistador mounts that had been living wild for the past 400 years. The horses were thriving in harsh terrain where natural predators abound: bears, mountain lions, lightning strikes, wildfires, drought, winter. It took a helicopter to round them up.

Over tens of millions of years, members of the horse family (Equidae) traveled from their North American home over the Bering Land Bridge. “During the Pleistocene, equids were the most abundant, medium-sized grazing animals of the grasslands and steppes of Africa, Asia and the Americas,” according to a report by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Seven wild species still survive in Asia and Africa. What could have happened 10,000 years ago to cause all the horses of North America to vanish?

Here is one possible explanation…
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To read the full article and learn what may have caused horses to go extinct in North American at the end of the Pleistocene after 55 million years, go to the archives page at germtales.com

germtales is now a website. In addition to posts on subjects ranging from The Mystery of the Ancient Horses to Mind Germs, there are book reviews, interviews, news headline links and an extensive, eclectic sources page.

Thanks for your interest!

best,

Janet

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2 Comments:

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