Mesoamerican Art & The “Horse” Controversy

These are some pictures of MesoAmerican pottery depicting men riding on deer and similar beasts. The bottow two depict dogs as participating in some way in transportation. The controversy surrounding the BoM claim of ‘horses’ could be influenced by these finds.

One LDS archaeologist, Mark Wright, summarizes his views on this subject (he provided the pictures as well):

Just for the record, I don’t think the ancient Maya rode deer as a regular form of transport, and I don’t think that’s what the Book of Mormon is talking about when it talks about horses. What I did want to show was that the concept of riding deer was not unknown to them, and demonstrated that with the images of the Moon Goddess riding a deer. What I do find fascinating about the images is the fact that the deer appears to have a form of a saddle, as well as some type of rein, which seems a pretty interesting detail for a people that never actually tried it – how would they know that some type of saddle/rein would even be useful? That and that fact that the word for “deer” and the word for “horse” is the same in many Mayan languages. It’s not my favorite explanation, but I find it plausible.
I actually prefer the dog explanation, as dogs are almost always found in association with the royal palanquin/litter/”chariot”, and horses in the Book of Mormon are always in association with chariots but never ridden. But I’m not entirely sold on that one either.
And then there are the mysterious horse bones sitting in drawers and bodega shelves that nobody get around to carbon dating because they just shouldn’t have been in the dirt in the first place. But I’ve never seen a drawing of a horse in the ancient record, so I’m not convinced of this one either.
The point is, although I’m not entirely sold on any of the explanations yet, I find all of them to be plausible and each has some support from either linguistic or iconographic or osteological data and therefore I’m not at all bothered by the “horse question” – I know that one of these plausible explanations is right, and I honestly don’t care which one it is.


Here are the links to this art:

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9 comments on “Mesoamerican Art & The “Horse” Controversy

  1. Did you know Mormanity has referred to this cool post? You might want to head over there and check it out.

  2. Neal says:

    Wow. The image file dogs1.jpg shows dark-skinned people clearly differentiated from lighter-skinned people.

    Did this differentiation in skin color exist among the inhabitants of the Americas at the time the Europeans came? Or had skin color become more or less homogenous by then?

    This is a topic I haven’t read about in any LDS apologetics.

  3. James says:

    Hi Neal.
    John Sorenson reminds us in his monumental work “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon” that in 1560 AD an early Spaniard named Tomas Medel noted that the natives in the lower and hotter areas of Guatemala were darker skinned than those living in the highlands of Guatemala. In fact, Medel says that the highlanders “appeared but little different from the Spaniards”(Sorenson,pg.89).
    Sorenson also tells a story of Cortez, the well known Spanish conqueror. Cortez sent native allies to spy on a rebel group of Spaniards in Central Mexico, and among the party he sent two of his own men, Spaniards, dressed like Indians. Sorenson says “They succeeded in being in the camp of the rebel Spaniards for a lengthy period, then returned to reprot the state of affairs, their own Spanish identity never being detected by their countrymen”(pg.90)
    According to Sorenson, present day surviving peoples in Book of Mormon lands enjoy a substantial range of skin shades, from dark brown to virtual white(pg.90).

    Hope that helps!

  4. James says:

    This post has recieved significant traffic because of the spotlight that Jeff Lindsay recently placed on it.

    This post was initially meant only as a place for me to store these wonderful pictures for future use. Maybe you can use it for a similar reason. What this post is NOT, is an attempt to explain or conclude anything about the horse controversy. This art presents some new information that I think it extremely relevant to the debate, and which may or may not prove useful in the future.

  5. Chris says:

    These are apparently mythological scenes, in which nature deities use wild animals as beasts of burden. This doesn’t mean humans did so. See here.

  6. James says:

    Chris(California Kid),
    If you notice, noone in this post has speculated that this artwork suggests that humans rode deer. In fact, Mark Wright already beat you to the punch in pointing out that it is the Moon Goddess (a nature deity) who is riding these deer. Wright suggests that the most interesting thing about this artwork is that the deer have a sort of saddle and reins, which propels us to ask “how did they know about those things?”
    The purpose of drawing attention to this artwork is to simply point out that the debate is far from over and that there is still much to learn.


  7. […] Mesoamerican art and the “horse” controversy. Nice discussion of the problem and some art. Also at Jeff Lindsay’s blog. […]

  8. This was an excellent post.

  9. […] Comments from Mark Wright are found in James Stutz, “Mesoamerican Art & the ‘Horse’ Controversy,” at Lehi’s Library, April 16, 2008, online at […]

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