The legend was true: Chincoteague horses are descendants of the conquistadors' horses

The Spanish ancestors of the Chincoteague ponies. Yes, a legend as old as the United States has always seen how the legendary wild horses that inhabit Assateague Island, located between Virginia and Maryland, are descended from their bearing foals. the conquerors. Today it is small in stature because it feeds mainly on algae, and it could have been saved from a sinking galleon, which had landed by swimming on this strip of land. Well: now the chance discovery by a French paleontologist gives a new basis to this legend.

The epic of those very strong and very smart little horses here in the US is very popular. She became famous for her famous children’s story, Misty from Chincoteague By Margaret Henry, Published 1947: The story of a group of horses escaping a shipwreck by swimming to Assateague Island. And for two children, centuries later, they saved up enough to buy a colt Misty with her mother, Phantom. After a series of twists and turns, they will leave the Persians free to join her beloved stallion – and swimming champion – Beed Piper. Save only the dowry with him.

Since then, the island – divided in half by a wall, it must be said, along the two American states – has become a tourist destination for all those who love wild nature. On the other hand, ponies live here in the wild. And those who camp on the shore can see them running free and happily: even if it is better not to get too close, for they are not at all friendly and bite those who stretch out their hands often towards their fluffy fur. The specimens living on the Virginia side are 150, those in Maryland are 90. The two states are very careful not to grow the population further, given that today there is hardly enough food for everyone. But once a year, on the first Wednesday of July, the two herds gather thanks to the work of the local firefighters: on this occasion they improvise the cowboys and lead all the specimens for a gentle swim to the nearby Chincoteague: yes the island to which he gave its name, which is a little wider. A small party culminates the next day with an auction where surplus samples are sold.

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But how were the origins of young horses traced? It took a study of the cow by Nicholas Delsol — a paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History — to back up the ancient legend. In fact, the researcher usually deals with cattle. He was studying fossils of ancient cows found among the remains of a Spanish village in Haiti in 1500 when he found a tooth that apparently belonged to a completely different breed. It’s clear from horses of course: but with very little DNA in common with those in America now.

So Delsol depleted all of America’s animal DNA archive: he discovered that the horse’s closest relative, which lived hundreds of years ago, was Chincoteague ponies. The discovery gave the essence of the ancient story. “We can’t tell if the legend is true: but it is clear that Chincoteague descended from Spanish horses found in Caribbean colonies five centuries ago,” the researcher explained to The Washington Post, which devoted an extensive article to the discovery. “Now we will be able to continue this kind of studies, I have no doubt: we will better understand the role that horses played in Spanish colonial society.”

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