Book of Mormon/Anachronisms/Animals/Horses

Horses in the Book of Mormon

Question: Why are horses considered an anachronism in the Book of Mormon?

Horses existed in the New World anciently and spread to other parts of the world, however, it is currently believed that "The last prehistoric North American horses died out between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene." [1]

Modern horses did not arrive in the New World until they were brought by Spanish explorers. Thus, the mention of "horses" in the Americas during Book of Mormon times presents an anachronism--something that doesn't fit the time frame for which it is claimed.

There are at least two possible resolutions to the "horse" problem in the Book of Mormon:

  1. Horses were present but their remains have not been found.
  2. Definitions of the word "horse" were expanded to include new meanings.

Question: What is the origin of the modern horse in the New World?

Most scientists believe that the horse originated in the Americas and spread across land bridges from the Americas to Asia, eventually migrating into Africa and Europe. Over the course of millions of years the horse evolved from a smaller breed to the larger horses of today. Near the end of the Pleistocene period--about 10,000 years ago--the most recent ice-age came to an end. During this time many large mammals that once roamed the Americas became extinct. Among these were mammoths, camels, and the mid-sized horses that once lived in abundance in the New World. Scientists typically postulate that these animals died off due to climate changes and possible over-hunting. In other parts of the world, however, horses continued to thrive and eventually evolved into modern-day horses. When the Spaniards came to the New World in the early sixteenth century, they brought horses with them. Some horses eventually escaped and multiplied in the wild.

A horse skeleton from the La Brea Tarpits, in Los Angeles, California. The Museum notes that this is an example of the "extinct Western horse". Image taken from [1] on the La Brea Tarpits Museum website.

Verses in the Book of Mormon that talk about "horses"

Horses associated with travel and chariots

  • Alma 18:9-10
    And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi...Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished...
  • Alma 18:12
    And it came to pass that when Ammon had made ready the horses and the chariots for the king and his servants...
  • Alma 20:6
    Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots.
  • 3 Nephi 3:22
    And it came to pass in the *seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies.

(It should be noted that we are not told if these chariots served a purpose in riding, or if they were for transport of goods, or if they had a ceremonial function. One assumes some sort of practicality or ritual use in war, since they brought chariots to the siege in 3 Nephi.)

Horse mentioned in quotes of Old World scripture

  • 2 Nephi 12:7
    Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.
  • 2 Nephi 15:28
    Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.
  • 3 Nephi 21:14
    Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;

Wild horses

  • 1 Nephi 18:25
    And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men.

Domesticated horses

  • Enos 1:21
    And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.

Horses as a potential source of food

  • 3 Nephi 4:4
    Therefore, there was no chance for the robbers to plunder and to obtain food, save it were to come up in open battle against the Nephites; and the Nephites being in one body, and having so great a number, and having reserved for themselves provisions, and horses and cattle, and flocks of every kind, that they might subsist for the space of seven years...
  • 3 Nephi 6:1
    And now it came to pass that the people of the Nephites did all return to their own lands in the *twenty and sixth year, every man, with his family, his flocks and his herds, his horses and his cattle...
  • Ether 9:19
    And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.

It is interesting that the horses are often grouped with cattle, and seem to have played a role in the diet (though this may have been under the exigencies of the siege of 3 Nephi.)

Question: What role do horses not play in the Book of Mormon?

Horses are never ridden or used in battle

Conspicuously absent is any role of the horse in the many journeys recorded in the Book of Mormon. Nor do horses or chariots play any role in the many Nephite wars; this is in stark contrast to the Biblical account, in which the chariots of Egypt, Babylon, and the Philistines are feared super-weapons upon the plains of Israel.

Nor do we see a role for the horse in gallant cavalry charges that were the romantic warrior ideal in Joseph Smith's day. Nor is there any sign of the rapid war of maneuver and skirmish favored by the cavalry of the western nations. These are not the horses of the nineteenth century's practical realities or fanciful dreams.

There are societies in which the horse was vital, such as among the Hun warriors of Asia and Eastern Europe, for whom horses were a sign of wealth and status, and for whom they were essential for food, clothing, and war. Yet, there is no known horse bone from this period in the archaeological record.[2]

Question: Have any ancient horse remains from the Nephite period been found in the New World?

A few non-Mormon scholars have proposed that real horses survived the New World extinction

Wild horses were present in ancient America during the Pleistocene period (Ice Age), yet were not present at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards. Horses thrived once they were re-introduced by the Spaniards into the New World. The question then is: "Why were horses missing when the Spaniards arrived?" Is it possible that real horses lived in the Americas during Book of Mormon times? And if so, why does there seem to be no archaeological support?

At least a few non-Mormon scholars believe that real horses (of a stature smaller than modern horses) may have survived New World extinction. The late British anthropologist, M.F. Ashley Montague, a non-LDS scholar who taught at Harvard, suggested that the horse never became extinct in America. According to Montague, the size of post-Columbian horses provides evidence that the European horses bred with early American horses.[3]

Non-LDS Canadian researcher, Yuri Kuchinsky, also believes that there were pre-Columbian horses. Kuchinsky, however, believes that horses (smaller than our modern horses) were reintroduced into the west coast of the Americas about 2000 years ago from Asians who came by ship. Among Kuchinsky's evidences for pre-Columbian horses are:

  1. Horse traditions among the Indians that may pre-date the arrival of the Spaniards.
  2. Supposedly pre-Columbian petroglyphs that appear to depict horses.
  3. Noticeable differences between the typical Spanish horse and the much smaller American Indian ponies.[4]

Question: Why don't potential pre-Columbian horse remains in the New World receive greater attention from scientists?

Theories that horses survived extinction after the Pleistocene extinction are viewed as fringe by mainstream scholars and are dismissed

Unfortunately for this solution for the Book of Mormon, however, such theories are typically seen as fringe among mainstream scholars. Due to the dearth of archaeological support, most scholars continue to believe that horses became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene period.

We know, for example, that the Norsemen probably introduced horses, cows, sheep, goats, and pigs into the Eastern North America in the eleventh century A.D., yet these animals didn't spread throughout the continent and they left no archeological remains.[5] According to one non-LDS authority on ancient American, the Olmecs had domesticated dogs and turkeys but the damp acidic Mesoamerican soil would have destroyed any remains and any archaeological evidence of such animal domestication.[6]

Even in areas of the world where animals lived in abundance, we sometimes have problems finding archaeological remains. The textual evidence for lions in Israel, for example, suggests that lions were present in Israel from ancient times until at least the sixteenth century AD. Robert R. Bennett of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute Of Religious Scholarship notes,

A parallel example from the Bible is instructive. The biblical narrative mentions lions, yet it was not until very recently that the only other evidence for lions in Palestine was pictographic or literary. Before the announcement in a 1988 publication of two bone samples, there was no archaeological evidence to confirm the existence of lions in that region.6 Thus there is often a gap between what historical records such as the Book of Mormon claim existed and what the limited archaeological record may yield. In addition, archaeological excavations in Bible lands have been under way for decades longer and on a much larger scale than those in proposed Book of Mormon lands.[7]

In the Bible we read that Abraham had camels while in Egypt, yet archaeologists used to believe that this was an anachronism because camels were supposedly unknown in Egypt until Greek and Roman times. More recently, however, some researchers have shown that camels were used in Egypt from pre-historic times until the present day.

The fact is, however, that there does appear to be archaeological support that horses existed in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. In 1957, for instance, at Mayapan (a site corresponding to Book of Mormon lands/times) horse remains were discovered at a depth considered to be pre-Columbian. Likewise, in southwest Yucatan, a non-Mormon archaeologist found what may likely be pre-Columbian horse remains in three caves. Excavations in a cave in the Mayan lowlands in 1978 also turned up horse remains.[8]

As an article for the Academy of Natural Science explains, such discoveries are typically "either dismissed or ignored by the European scientific community."[9] The problem may be one of pre-conceived paradigms. Dr. Sorenson recently related the story of a non-LDS archaeologist colleague who was digging at an archaeological dig in Tula and discovered a horse tooth. He took it to his supervisor--the chief archaeologist--who said, "Oh, that's a modern horse, throw it away" (which he did)--it was never dated.[10]

Dr. John Clark, director of the New World Archaeological Foundation has expressed similar concerns:

The problem is archaeologists get in the same hole that everybody else gets in. If you find a horse--if I'm digging a site and I find a horse bone--if I actually know enough to know that it is a horse bone, because that takes some expertise--my assumption would be that there's something wrong with my site. And so archaeologists who find a horse bone and say, "Ah! Somebody's screwing around with my archaeology." So we would never date it. Why am I going to throw away $600 to date the horse bone when I already know [that they're modern]? ...I think that hole's screwed up. If I dig a hole and I find plastic in the bottom, I'm not going to run the [radio]carbon, that's all there is to it. Because ...I don't want to waste the money.[11]

Question: Could ancient Americans have expanded the definition of "horse" to include new meanings?

Loan shifting: We must consider the possibility that the ancient author was applying familiar terms to unfamiliar animals that were encountered in the New World

Joseph Smith obviously knew what a "horse" looked like. It stands to reason, therefore, that when Joseph said "horse" that this is exactly what he meant. If we consider, however, that Joseph was receiving revelation that simply conveyed what was written by the ancient author, we must consider the possibility that the ancient author was applying familiar terms to unfamiliar animals that were encountered in the New World. It is important to remember that the Book of Mormon itself is not an ancient text—it is a nineteenth-century translation of an ancient text. Modern readers need to have an understanding of what the ancient author was attempting to convey. Some of the things that seem "plain" to us are not so "plain" upon further investigation or once we understand the culture that produced the text.

For a detailed response, see: Loan shifting: "Horses" as deer and tapirs

"Pottery and other cultural materials were found in levels VII and above. But in some of those artifact-bearing strata there were horse bones, even in level II."

The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: [12]

Publications from the late 1950s reported results from excavations by scientists working on the Yucatan Peninsula. Excavations at the site of Mayapan, which dates to a few centuries before the Spaniards arrived, yielded horse bones in four spots. (Two of the lots were from the surface, however, and might represent Spanish horses.) From another site, the Cenote (water hole) Ch'en Mul, came other traces, this time from a firm archaeological context. In the bottom stratum in a sequence of levels of unconsolidated earth almost two meters in thickness, two horse teeth were found. They were partially mineralized, indicating that they were definitely ancient and could not have come from any Spanish animal. The interesting thing is that Maya pottery was also found in the stratified soil where the teeth were located. [13]

Subsequent digging has expanded the evidence for an association of humans with horses. But the full story actually goes back to 1895, when American paleontologist Henry C. Mercer went to Yucatan hoping to find remains of Ice Age man. He visited 29 caves in the hill area—the Puuc—of the peninsula and tried stratigraphic excavation in 10 of them. But the results were confused, and he came away disillusioned. He did find horse bones in three caves (Actun Sayab, Actun Lara, and Chektalen). In terms of their visible characteristics, those bones should have been classified as from the Pleistocene American horse species, then called Equus occidentalis L. However, Mercer decided that since the remains were near the surface, they must actually be from the modern horse, Equus equus, that the Spaniards had brought with them to the New World, and so he reported them as such.[14] In 1947 Robert T. Hatt repeated Mercer's activities. He found within Actun Lara and one other cave more remains of the American horse (in his day it was called Equus conversidens), along with bones of other extinct animals. Hatt recommended that any future work concentrate on Loltun Cave, where abundant animal and cultural remains could be seen.[15]

It took until 1977 before that recommendation bore fruit. Two Mexican archaeologists carried out a project that included a complete survey of the complex system of subterranean cavities (made by underground water that had dissolved the subsurface limestone). They also did stratigraphic excavation in areas in the Loltun complex not previously visited. The pits they excavated revealed a sequence of 16 layers, which they numbered from the surface downward. Bones of extinct animals (including mammoth) appear in the lowest layers.

Pottery and other cultural materials were found in levels VII and above. But in some of those artifact-bearing strata there were horse bones, even in level II. A radiocarbon date for the beginning of VII turned out to be around 1800 BC. The pottery fragments above that would place some portions in the range of at least 900–400 BC and possibly later. The report on this work concludes with the observation that "something went on here that is still difficult to explain." Some archaeologists have suggested that the horse bones were stirred upward from lower to higher levels by the action of tunneling rodents, but they admit that this explanation is not easy to accept. The statement has also been made that paleontologists will not be pleased at the idea that horses survived to such a late date as to be involved with civilized or near-civilized people whose remains are seen in the ceramic-using levels.[16] Surprisingly, the Mexican researchers show no awareness of the horse teeth discovered in 1957 by Carnegie Institution scientists Pollock and Ray. (Some uncomfortable scientific facts seem to need rediscovering time and time again.)

Martin: "no theoretical reason why a herd of mastodons, horses, or ground sloths could not have survived in some small refuge until 8000 or even 4000 years ago"

Paul S. Martin:

Admittedly, there is no theoretical reason why a herd of mastodons, horses, or ground sloths could not have survived in some small refuge until 8000 or even 4000 years ago. But in the past two decades, concordant stratiagraphic, palynological, archeological, and radiocarbon evidence to demonstrate beyond doubt the post-glacial survival of an extinct large mammal has been confined to extinct species of Bison…No evidence of similar quality has been mustered to show that mammoths, mastodons, or any of the other 29 genera of extinct large mammals of North America were alive 10,000 years ago. The coincidence in time between massive extinction and the first arrival of big game hunters cannot be ignored.[17]

Grayson: "extinct North American mammals...losses began in Mexico and Alaska during the Pleistocene and ended in Florida perhaps as recently as 2000 years ago"


In the first thorough review of radiocarbon dates associated with the extinct North American mammals, Martin (1958) concluded that the losses began in Mexico and Alaska during the Pleistocene and ended in Florida perhaps as recently as 2000 years ago (1958:405). Soon after, however, Hester (1960:58) concluded that the great majority of herd animals seemed to have been lost swiftly and together around 8,000 years ago even if some, like the mastodon, may have lingered on beyond then. Hester was thus the first to suggest, based on radiocarbon evidence, that a significant number, if not all, of the North American extinctions were synchronous. [18]

Bernardino de Sahagun: "Fodder was provided the deer—horses—which the Spaniards rode"

Bernardino de Sahagun:

Fodder was provided the deer—horses—which the Spaniards rode....The horses—they looked like deer—neighed and whinnied. They were all sweating; water fell from their bodies....[19]

Sorenson: Horse bones in Yucatan "considered to be pre-Columbian on the basis of depth of burial and degree of mineralization"

John L. Sorenson: [20]

Excavations at the Post-Classic site of Mayapan in Yucatan in 1957 yielded remains of horses in four lots. Two of these specimens are from the surface and might have been remains of Spanish animals. Two other lots, however, were obtained from excavation in Cenote [water hole] Ch'en Mul "from the bottom stratum in a sequence of unconsolidated earth almost 2 meters in thickness." They were "considered to be pre-Columbian on the basis of depth of burial and degree of mineralization. Such mineralization was observed in no other bone or tooth in the collection although thousands were examined, some of which were found in close proximity to the horse teeth." Clayton E. Ray somewhat lamely suggests that the fossil teeth were of Pleistocene age and "could have been transported . . . as curios by the Mayans." [21]

Question: Do Mormon apologists claim that the horse referred to in the Book of Mormon is actually a deer or tapir?

The origin of the suggestion that that name "horse" could have been "loan-shifted" or expanded to refer to "deer" or "tapir" was anthropologist John L. Sorenson

John L. Sorenson originally suggested the possibility of "loan-shifting" of the word "horse" to "deer" or "tapir" in 1984. Mormon apologists have never claimed that "horses were tapirs." It is a suggestion of plausibility only: They offer it as one possible loan-shift, however, many apologists generally favor the presence of true Equus horses for horses, and tapirs for asses.

The Maya called the Spanish horse tzimin ("beast") and the tapir tzimin che ("forest beast") in order to distinguish them

For example, the Maya used the word tzimin to refer to horses brought to the new world by the Spaniards. They used the word tzimin che ("forest beast" or "forest horse,") to refer to the tapir. Word changes over time. Horses are now quite common, and Maya languages have shifted the primary meaning of tzimin to mean horse. We North Americans use buffalo for bison. Words are reassigned often.

Composite expressions such as this were used in Lowland Maya nomenclature:

Composite expressions also occur for a few generic species when their names indicate an intermediate category. For example, the tapir, tzimin(+)che' ("forest beast"), forms an intermediate category tegether with horse, tzimin, which is optionally marked by the composite expression tzimin(+kaj)("village beast") or tzimin(+kastil) ("Spanish beast"). [22]

Prior to the arrival of the horse, tzimin had a different meaning, but with the shift to horse as the primary meaning, the "forest horse" was added to distinguish the use of the word for "tapir" from what has become the lesser usage. Still, the pre-contact meaning of tzimin was "beast" rather than "horse." It was a word reassigned to horse when they had to describe the new animal, and eventually the horse became the most important reference.

Anyone else who has mentioned the possibility of "horse" as "deer" or "tapir" has based it upon Sorenson's 1984 research

John L. Sorenson said in 1992,

Is "horse" in the Book of Mormon merely a matter of labeling by analogy some other quadruped with the name Equus, the true horse, or does the scripture's use of "horse" refer to the actual survival into very recent times of the American Pleistocene horse (Equus equus)? If, as most zoologists and paleontologists assume, Equus equus was absent from the New World during Book of Mormon times, could deer, tapir, or another quadruped have been termed "horse" by Joseph Smith in his translating?[23]

In 2000, the FARMS Research Department wrote,

Similarly, members of Lehi's family may have applied loanwords to certain animal species that they encountered for the first time in the New World, such as the Mesoamerican tapir. While some species of tapir are rather small, the Mesoamerican variety (tapiris bairdii) can grow to be nearly six and a half feet in length and can weigh more than six hundred pounds. Many zoologists and anthropologists have compared the tapir's features to those of a horse or a donkey. "Whenever I saw a tapir," notes zoologist Hans Krieg, "it reminded me of an animal similar to a horse or a donkey. The movements as well as the shape of the animal, especially the high neck with the small brush mane, even the expression on the face, are much more like a horse's than a pig's [to which some have compared the smaller species]. When watching a tapir on the alert . . . as he picks himself up when recognizing danger, taking off in a gallop, almost nothing remains of the similarity to a pig."[24]

Other zoologists have made similar observations. "At first glance," note Hans Frädrich and Erich Thenius, "the tapirs' movements also are not similar to those of their relatives, the rhinoceros and the horses. In a slow walk, they usually keep the head lowered." However, when a tapir runs, its movement becomes quite horselike: "In a trot, they lift their heads and move their legs in an elastic manner. The amazingly fast gallop is seen only when the animals are in flight, playing, or when they are extremely excited." In addition, tapirs can "climb quite well, even though one would not expect this because of their bulky figure. Even steep slopes do not present obstacles. They jump vertical fences or walls, rising on their hind legs and leaping up."[24] Tapirs can be domesticated quite easily if they are captured when young. Young tapirs who have lost their mothers are easily tamed and will eat from a bowl, and they like to be petted and will often allow children to ride on their backs.[24]

One could hardly fault Old World visitors to the New World for choosing to classify the Mesoamerican tapir as a horse or an ass, if that is what happened. Given the limitations of zoo-archaeology, and also those of other potentially helpful disciplines when probing many centuries into the forgotten past, it is unwise to dismiss the references in the Book of Mormon to horses as erroneous.[25]

John A. Tvedtnes cites Sorenson

John A. Tvedtnes refers to Sorenson's work in 1994 while responding to a criticism of the idea,

Hutchinson's criticism of John Sorenson's work on Book of Mormon geography is a gross oversimplification and the "problems" he claims to identify are mostly nonexistent. For example, he criticizes Sorenson's comment that the cows, asses, and swine of the Book of Mormon might be Mesoamerican animals such as deer, tapirs, and peccaries. "When is a cow not a cow?" he asks. I respond, "When it's a deer!" There are, in fact, many linguistic parallels to the kind of thing Sorenson discusses, wherein people have applied the names of known animals to newly discovered or newly introduced creatures. Thus, the Greeks named the huge beast encountered in the Nile River, hippopotamus, "river horse." The same kind of thing happens with both fauna and flora. For example, the term used for potatoes in a number of the languages of Europe (where the tuber is not indigenous) is "earth apple." When the Spanish introduced horses into the New World, some Amerindian tribes called them "deer." I agree with Hutchinson, however, that dogs are an unlikely explanation for the "flocks" of the Book of Mormon. The term more likely refers to herd animals meeting the requirements for cleanliness in the law of Moses.[26]

Daniel C. Peterson cites Sorenson

Daniel C. Peterson cites Sorenson here, as one theory among many (if anything, favoring actual Equus horses).

Even if one assumes that the true horse (Equus equus) was absent from the Americas during Book of Mormon times, it remains possible that the term horse in the Book of Mormon-which, by the way, does not occur very often, and even then in rather puzzling contexts-refers simply to deer or tapirs or similar quadrupeds thought by the Nephites to be analogous to the horse. (It should be noted, incidentally, that no Book of Mormon text speaks of people riding their "horses.") Both Mayan and Aztec texts, for instance, appear to refer to Spanish horses as "deer" and to their riders as "deer-riders." But there is archaeological reason to believe that horses may, in fact, have existed in the Americas during Book of Mormon times. The question remains very much open.[27]

Peterson's footnote states "Valuable discussions of the evidence can be found at John L. Sorenson, "Animals in the Book of Mormon: An Annotated Bibliography" (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992); Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting, 295-6; Welch, "Finding Answers," 8; Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 98-100."

Matthew Roper cites Sorenson

Matthew Roper cites Sorenson's, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (1985), 288-99. in 1997:

Kiddle notes that "The first two naming procedures are hard to study because they require an intimate knowledge of the receiving languages in order to comprehend the thought processes of their speakers."118 This is, of course, extremely relevant in the case of Book of Mormon animal names, which may have similar complexities, since the book purports to be a document translated from another language and deals in part with Old World cultures encountering New World cultures for the first time. What, for example, would Nephi have called a Mesoamerican tapir if he had encountered one? Could he have called it a horse? The tapir is considered by zoologists to be a kind of horse in unevolved form.119 Although the Central American tapir, the largest of the New World species, can weigh up to 300 kilos,120 it can move rather quickly at a gallop and can jump vertical fences or walls by rising on its hind legs and leaping up.121 Zoologist Hans Krieg notes, "Whenever I saw a tapir, it reminded me of an animal similar to a horse or a donkey. The movements as well as the shape of the animal, especially the high neck with the small brush mane, even the expression on the face is much more like a horse's."122 The tapir can also be domesticated quite easily if captured when young.123 Young tapirs who have lost their mothers are easily tamed and can be fed from a bowl. They like to be petted and will often let children ride on their backs.124 When the Spanish arrived in the Yucatan, the Maya called European horses and donkeys tzimin, meaning "tapir," because, according to one early observer, "they say they resemble them greatly."125 After the spread of horses, tapir were still called tzimin-kaax, which means literally "forest horse."126 Some observers have felt that the tapir more accurately resembles an ass. In fact, among many native Americans today, the tapir is called anteburro, which means "once an ass."127 In Brazil some farmers have actually used the tapir to pull ploughs, suggesting potential as a draft animal.128 So tapirs could certainly have been used in ways similar to horses.[28]

Brant Gardner cites Sorenson

Brant Gardner cites Sorenson in 2005 (on tapirs, deer, and other options):

What, then, is the outrageous claim for horses, tapirs, and deer? From Sorenson:

True horses (Equus sp.) were present in the western hemisphere long ago, but it has been assumed that they did not survive to the time when settled peoples inhabited the New World. I recently summarized evidence suggesting that the issue is not settled. Actual horse bones have been found in a number of archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, in one case with artifacts six feet beneath the surface under circumstances that rule out their coming from Spanish horses. Still, other large animals might have functioned or looked enough like a horse that one of them was what was referred to by horse. A prehispanic figure modeled on the cover of an incense burner from Poptun, Guatemala, shows a man sitting on the back of a deer holding its ears or horns, and a stone monument dating to around a.d. 700 represents a woman astride the neck of a deer, grasping its horns. Then there is another figurine of a person riding an animal, this one from central Mexico. Possibly, then, the deer served as a sort of “horse” for riding. (That was a practice in Siberia until recently, so the idea is not as odd as moderns might think. Besides, in the Quiche languages of highland Guatemala we have expressions like keh, deer or horse, keheh, mount or ride, and so on.)[58][29]

Daniel C. Peterson and Matt Roper cite Sorenson here (indeed, it is an explicit defense of an attack on Sorenson's ideas):

Tapir as "Horse." As Professor Sorenson and others have repeatedly pointed out, the practice of naming flora and fauna is far more complicated than critics of the Book of Mormon have been willing to admit. For instance, people typically give the names of familiar animals to animals that have newly come to their attention. Think, for instance, of sea lions, sea cows, and sea horses. When the Romans, confronting the army of Pyrrhus of Epirus in 280 BC, first encountered the elephant, they called it a Lucca bos or "Lucanian cow." The Greeks' naming of the hippopotamus (the word means "horse of the river" or "river horse") is also a good example. (Some will recall that the hippopotamus is called a Nilpferd, a "Nile horse," in German.) When the Spanish first arrived in Central America, the natives called their horses and donkeys tzimin, meaning "tapir." The Arabs' labeling of the turkey as an Ethiopian or Roman rooster (dik al-abash or dik rumi), the Conquistadors' use of the terms lion and tiger to designate the jaguar, and the fact that several Amerindian groups called horses deer represent but a few more examples of a very well-attested global phenomenon. The Nephites too could easily have assigned familiar Old World names to the animals they discovered in the New.[30]

Peterson and Roper mention other possibilities

However, Peterson and Roper also mention other options offered like deer, and genuine Equus horse bones.

Incidentally, horse bones were also found in association with cultural remains at Loltun Cave in northern Yucatan. There, archaeologists identified a sequence of sixteen layers numbered from the surface downward and obtained a radiocarbon date of about 1800 BC from charcoal fragments found between layers VIII and VII.66 Significantly, forty-four fragments of horse remains were found in the layers VII, VI, V, and II—above all in association with pottery. But the earliest Maya ceramics in the region date no earlier than 900-400 BC.67 [31]

See FairMormon Evidence:
More information related to horses in the Book of Mormon

Loanshifting: "horses" as deer and tapirs

Summary: One of the items which critics love to mock is the idea that the "horse" referred to in the Book of Mormon might have actually been another animal, such as a deer or tapir. We explore the basis for this criticism, which is centered on a concept called "loan-shifting."


  1. Jay F. Kirkpatrick and Patricia M. Fazio, "The Surprising History of America's Wild Horses," (July 24, 2008) off-site
  2. S. Bokonyi, History of Domestic Mammals in Central and Eastern Europe (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1974), 267.
  3. Paul R. Cheesman, The World of the Book of Mormon (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1984), 194, 181.
  5. William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197. wiki off-site GL direct link
  6. John Tvedtnes, “The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy” (unpublished, 1994), 29-30 (copy in Mike Ash’s possession); Benjamin Urrutia, “Lack of Animal Remains at Bible and Book-of-Mormon Sites,” Newsletter and Proceedings of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology, 150 (August 1982), 3-4.
  7. "Horses in the Book of Mormon" (Provo: Utah, FARMS, 2000). off-site
  8. Clay E. Ray, “Pre-Columbian Horses from Yucatan,” Journal of Mammalogy 38:2 (1957), 278.
  10. Mike Ash notes that this story was told at the Q&A session following Dr. Sorenson’s presentation, “The Trajectory of Book of Mormon Studies,” 2 August 2007 at the 2007 FAIR Conference; audio and video in author’s possession.
  11. John Clark during Q&A session following Dr. Clark’s presentation, “Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief,” 25 May 2004 at BYU; audio of Q&A in author Mike Ash's possession.
  12. Anonymous, "Out of the Dust: Were Ancient Americans Familiar with Real Horses?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001): N/A–N/A. off-site wiki
  13. See Harry E. D. Pollock and Clayton E. Ray, "Notes on Vertebrate Animal Remains from Mayapan," Current Reports 41 (August 1957): 638; this publication is from the Department of Archaeology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. See also Clayton E. Ray, "Pre-Columbian Horses from Yucatan," Journal of Mammalogy 38 (1957): 278.
  14. Henry C. Mercer, The Hill-Caves of Yucatan: A Search for Evidence of Man's Antiquity in the Caverns of Central America (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1896), 172.
  15. Robert T. Hatt, "Faunal and Archaeological Researches in Yucatan Caves," Cranbrook Institute of Science, Bulletin 33, 1953. See Peter J. Schmidt, "La entrada del hombre a la peninsula de Yucatan," in Origines del Hombre Americano, comp. Alba Gonzalez Jacome (Mexico: Secretaria de Educacion Publica, 1988), 250.
  16. Schmidt, "La entrada," 254.
  17. Paul S. Martin, "The Discovery of America," Science 179 (1973): 974 n. 3.
  18. Donald K. Grayson (Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195), "Deciphering North American Pleistocene Extinctions," Journal of Anthropological Research, in press (2007 JAR Distinguished Lecture)
  19. Bernardino de Sahagun, The War of Conquest: How It Was Waged Here in Mexico: the Aztecs' own story (University of Utah Press, 1978).
  20. John L. Sorenson, "Once More: The Horse," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), Chapter 10.
  21. Clayton E. Ray, "Pre-Columbian Horses from Yucatan," Journal of Mammalology 38 (1957): 278; Harry E. D. Pollock and Clayton E. Ray, "Notes on Vertebrate Animal Remains from Mayapan," Current Reports 41 (August 1957): 638 (Carnegie Institution, Washington, D.C., Dept. of Archaeology).
  22. Folkbiology Douglas L. Medin, Scott Altran editors. MIT Press (1999) p. 131.
  23. John L. Sorenson, "Once More, The Horse," Reexploring the Book of Mormon (1992).
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Quoted in Hans Frädrich and Erich Thenius, "Tapirs," Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, ed. Bernhard Grzimek (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company), 13:19—30.
  25. [Horses in the Book of Mormon "Horses in the Book of Mormon,"] Neal A. Maxwell Institute.
  26. John A. Tvedtnes, "Review of Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994).
  27. Daniel C. Peterson, "Yet More Abuse of B. H. Roberts," FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997)
  28. Matthew Roper, "Unanswered Mormon Scholars," FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997).
  29. Brant Gardner, "Behind the Mask, Behind the Curtain: Uncovering the Illusion," The FARMS Review 17/2 (2005).
  30. Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper, "Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural Mormons," The FARMS Review 16/1 (2004).
  31. Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper, "Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural Mormons," The FARMS Review 16/1 (2004).