Subject:      Re: Indian horses
From: (Yuri Kuchinsky)
Date:         1997/09/23
Message-ID:   <607euc$nvb$>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,rec.equestrian,soc.history,alt.native

[This is a repost of Hu's old post dealing with that very interesting
horse skull found in Wisconsin, since a number of people expressed
interest in it. Yuri.]

Subject:      Pre-Columbian Horses?
From:         [22] (Hu McCulloch)
Date:         1997/09/04
Message-Id:   <[23]>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology

[24] (ELurio) writes:

> ....  where is the evidence of pre-1500, post-pleistocene horses?
> Physical evidence only, please.  
> 					eric l. 

In the Milwaukee Public Museum there is the skull of a mustang
excavated in 1936 by W.C. McKern from a mound on
Spencer Lake in NW Wisconsin (47BT2), and vouched for by
McKern in the _Wisconsin Archaeologist_, Vol. 45, #2
(June 1964), pp. 118-120.  Says McKern , "there
remains no reasonable question as to the legitimacy
of the horse skull that we found as a burial association placed
in the mound by its builders."

C-14 dates on stuff from the mound are all pre-Columbian:
   AD 890 +/- 65
   AD 760 +/- 60
   AD 750 +/- 60
   AD 900 +/- 50
(---U. Wis. in _RadioCarbon_ vol. 9 (1967), pp. 530, 538-9.)
  AD 580 +/- 110
  AD 530 +/- 150
  AD 490 +/- 120
  AD 1100 +/- 100
(---U. Mich. in _RadioCarbon_ Vol. 10 (1968), pp. 61, 72-73.)

(Stuff is a technical term including charcoal, charred wood,
and charred bone.  I think these dates are uncalibrated, but
that would not qualitatively change them.)

So the record, such as it is, is that the skull was associated
with the burial mound, and the mound was pre-Columbian.
At present one can only conclude that the horse was

The plot is admittedly complicated by an anonymous confession
received by Robt. Ritzenthaler, then of the Milwaukee
Public Museum, from a "Mr P" who claimed that as a lad he
and a friend dug into a mound on Spencer Lake, and finding
nothing of interest, inserted a horse skull as a
prank before backfilling.   (ibid, pp. 115-123.)

However, Mr. P's mound was on the West shore, whereas
47BT2 was on the North shore of the lake.  It was one of a group,
whereas 47BT2 is an isolated mound.  47BT2 had been dug into,
but McKern is certain that his skull was "approximately fifteen feet
from the nearest wall of the pit excavation."  Mr. P found no artifacts
in his mound, yet the backfilled pit in 47BT2 was full of artifact debris.
Furthermore, Mr. P's skull had no mandible (lower jaw), whereas
McKern's skull had the mandible in place.

It is clear enough from this that there were two mounds on different
parts of Spencer Lake, and two horse skulls.  It is particularly
unlikely that Mr. P's skull could have grown a new mandible in
the time it was in the earth!

Nevertheless, Ritzenthaler, who also happened to be the editor
of the series in which McKern's report on the excavation was to
appear, took it upon himself to expunge all mention of the skull
from the official report:

W.C. McKern, _The Clam River Focus_
Milwaukee Public Museum Publications in Anthropology
#9, 1963.

In short, McKern, who did the digging, says it was a legitimate
burial association of the mound, whereas Ritzenthaler, who was not
even present, undertook to censor his data.

The issue could of course be settled by a C-14 date on the
skull.  In 1996, Pat Fazzio, an historian from Laramie Wyoming,
asked Dr. Ann McMullen of the Museum for such a C-14 date,
but so far as I know no action has been taken on her request.

The 1967-68 dates were ostensibly performed in order to
establish that the skull was post-Columbian, but through
some oversight the skull itself was not dated!  (The one
piece of charred bone doesn't appear to be from the
skull.)  But absent such a date, the record as it stands
is that this is a pre-Columbian horse.

The late Henriette Mertz raised a rucus over the Spencer Lake
horse skull in the _Canadian Journal of Anthropology_, circa
1976, but I can't find the reference.  She had learned of the
above C-14 dates, but was unaware that they had been
described in greater detail in _Radiocarbon_.

-- Hu McCulloch
   Econ Dept.
   Ohio State U

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