The unexpected discovery of a 16th century horse tooth in the Haiti gave credence to an age-old folk story about the origin of wild horses on an island off Maryland and Virginia in the United States. United States .
The famous ponies Chincoteague wilds have lived for centuries on Assateague Island, a barrier island off the Atlantic coast. But no one is quite sure how they got there.
A 1947 children’s book inspired by the local legend, Misty of Chincoteague, suggests that ponies are descended from horses in the Spain who swam to the island after a Spanish ship sank off the coast of Virginia, returning to a wild state over the years.
But research published in PLoS ONE by scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History on July 22 provides new scientific support for the theory based on the discovery of the oldest known DNA from a domesticated horse in the Americas.
Nicolas Delsol, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History, was researching cow bones from 16th-century archaeological sites in an effort to understand the introduction of domesticated cows to the Americas during Spanish colonization.
He conducted DNA sequencing on a “huge collection of archaeological remains” from Puerto Real, an ancient Spanish city located in modern-day Haiti. The city was founded by the Spanish in 1507, but abandoned in 1578.
“One of the bones that I thought was from a cow was misidentified,” Delsol explained in an interview with CNN . “A small fragment of a tooth was actually [de] a horse”.
The discovery was “completely unexpected,” says Delsol. “We quickly realized that it was perhaps the first domestic horse genome that we had from America’s early colonies.”
The genetic analysis “confirms what we could expect from historical documents, saying that the first horses were probably loaded onto boats from the Iberian Peninsula in southern Spain,” says Delsol.
Horses were a crucial part of Spanish society, he said — so important that Spanish settlers brought them along on the grueling and logistically challenging journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
But genetic analysis of the 16th-century tooth also helped Delsol identify the closest living relative of the first domestic horses: the Chincoteague ponies.
The genetic similarity lends credence to the belief that the ponies are descended from the first Spanish horses, according to Delsol.
“It might show some veracity behind this legend, which is rooted in a real event,” he said.
However, just because wild ponies are likely descended from Spanish horses doesn’t mean they came from a shipwreck, the researcher noted.
“The Spaniards could have left them on the island as they did with some other species, such as pigs or cattle, left to breed to have some local stock,” he explained.
The discovery also provides further evidence of how far northern Spanish settlers into the Americas got.
“This shows something that is not widely known, but is partially studied, that the Spaniards were not only present in the Caribbean region, in Mexico and in
South America, but also exploring its options much further north, on the east coast of the United States, in the mid-Atlantic region,” said Delsol. “We have some evidence of a Spanish presence, Spanish expeditions in the interior of the Carolinas.”
In the future, Delsol and his team hope to expand their research on the Puerto Real specimens — and explore how early settlers relied on horses to raise livestock in the Americas.
Source: CNN Brasil