Feel-Good Friday

Speaking of the Outer Banks, a researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History began the quest to find the origins of wild ponies in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.

The findings were amazing, and shed light on the history of the ponies.

Wild feral horses have roamed freely across an island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia for hundreds of years, but exactly how they got there has remained a mystery. Now, ancient DNA extracted from a 16th century tooth suggest that the old folk tales claiming that horses were marooned on Assateague following a Spanish shipwreck are likely true.

An abandoned Caribbean colony unearthed centuries after it had been forgotten and a case of mistaken identity with the tooth—long thought to be from a cow—have conspired to rewrite the history of that barrier island 1,000 miles away.

We were watching a documentary of this last week and it was fascinating.

Those seemingly unrelated threads were woven together when Nicolas Delsol, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History, set out to analyze ancient DNA recovered from cow bones found in archaeological sites. Delsol wanted to understand how cattle were domesticated in the Americas, and the genetic information preserved in centuries-old teeth held the answer. But they also held a surprise.

The specimen’s surprise wasn’t revealed until Delsol compared its DNA with that of modern horses from around the world. Given that the Spanish brought their horses from the Iberian Peninsula in southern Europe, he expected horses still living in that region would be the closest living relatives of the 500-year-old Puerto Real specimen.

According to the research, the Spaniards were responsible for moving the ponies into Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.


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