We don’t need no stinking horses!

Imagine a world without horses.

Of course, a world with more horses would be a lot of fun. What if the Native Americans had them, and all the empire-building, technology-sharing, and disease-creation that (at least according to Jared Diamond) goes with them?  Tad Williams gave a shout-out to the idea of American horses in Otherland, and Twovultures is still in the process of his lush and sprawling history of the same concept.


What if there were no horses? What if paleolithic peoples ate all the tarpans? What if wild horses were as untameable as zebras? Cold-adapted tsetse flies? Holocene equid diversity is pretty pathetic anyway, what if they were all just extinct before humans left Africa?

I’m thinking Eurasian civilization would be off to a slow start. With no animals to ride, we’d get no big, sprawling empires. City-states clustered around water might work, maybe even hydraulic empires like Pharaonic Egypt. but they’d have limited success penetrating inland. We might get a sort of Canaanite/Minoan/Egyptian/Celtiberian spectrum of cultures forming in the Mediterranean, but it would be totally cut off from other bodies of water. Triangular plowshares, gunpowder, silk, and wet-field cultivation would be right out, and I don’t think Europe would get pottery, the oar, or rammed-earth walls, either.

Without horses, Eurasia and North Africa is mostly the domain of nomadic herders, circulating through the steppe and desert with their sheep and camels. The forests are home to pig and cow herders. Heavy agriculture around the Nile, Tigris, Indus, Yellow, Mekong rivers supports centers of high population density that are almost entirely unknown to each other. Writing systems have evolved five times and lost three. Although some people have started to ride camels, nobody has bothered to invented the wheel…

In Eurasia! The South America, the Marajoara of the Amazon, with their rubber plantations and desire to trade with their land-bound neighbors to the south and north, finally invent the Wooden Bicycle. Well, they aren’t so much bicycles as big scooters. But when somebody figures out how to hitch a lama to one…

It’s only a matter of time before the Land-catamarans of Kavankina’ulu make landfall in China.

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