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The ‘ice age’ horse skeleton discovered in a Utah backyard is not what it seems

Archeologists thought the remains were 16,000 years old, but they’re really much younger

Mexican Army Captain and Engineer Jose de Jesus Cantoral Herrera shows a mammoth skeleton discovered during the construction of Mexico City’s new airport at Santa Lucia military base in Mexico, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.
Associated Press

A new study published by an international group of archeologists flips the script on a Utah discovery that made national headlines in 2018.

What’s going on?

As previously reported by the Deseret News, the skeletal remains of a horse were discovered in the backyard of a home in Lehi, Utah, in 2018 while the homeowners were conducting a landscaping project. Initial reports stated that the remains were estimated to be around 16,000 years old, placing the creature in the most recent ice age.

Now, over two years after the initial discovery, radiocarbon dating revealed that the remains are in fact much younger, dating from sometime after the late 17th century, according to Archaeology.org.

“We can only say that this horse died sometime after 1680, likely before the European settlers moved into the Salt Lake region during the mid-19th century,” William Taylor, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder and the lead author of the new study said, via The Science Times.

According to Live Science, the mix up happened because the remains were buried in lake sediments that dated back to 14,000 to 16,000 years ago.

“It was found in the ground in these geologic deposits from the Pleistocene — the last ice age,” Taylor said, via CU Boulder Today.

About the remains

Archeology.org states that further examination of the bones revealed the Lehi horse was about 12 years old when it died. The mare was found with fractures in her vertebrae, a feature that often appear on horses that are ridden without a saddle. Examiners also discovered arthritis in several of her limbs, a condition that possibly left her lame and in need of care.

According to Live Science, the horse was likely raised, ridden and looked after by Indigenous groups who previously resided in the area, possibly members of the Shoshone or Ute communities.

Key quotes

  • “The Lehi horse shows us that there is an incredible archaeological record out there of the early relationship between Indigenous people and horses,” Taylor said (via Live Science), “(It’s) a record that tells us things not written in any European histories.”
  • “There was a lot going on that Europeans didn’t see,” Shield Chief Gover, a graduate student at CU Boulder, added (via CU Boulder Today). “There was a 200-year period where populations in the Great Plains and the West were adapting their cultures to the horse.”

What does it mean?

According to CU Boulder Today, Taylor has a suspicion that the Lehi horse is not the only animal whose remains were mistakenly labeled from the ice age.

“I think there are a lot more out there like this,” the professor said.