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U among recipients of 2024 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize

An interdisciplinary team of more than 80 researchers led by Indigenous scholars has received the 2024 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize for their article about the rapid spread of horses through Indigenous societies in North America. University of Utah anthropologists Isaac Hart and Joan Brenner-Coltrain were co-authors of “Early dispersal of domestic horses into the Great Plains and Northern Rockies” that published in the March 31, 2023, issue of Science.

The AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, supported by The Fodor Family Trust, was established in 1923 and is awarded annually to the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of Science. Recipients of the award, the oldest awarded by AAAS, collectively receive $25,000.

“This paper is an example of a new model of collaboration between western science and Indigenous traditional knowledge holders. Many of the paper’s co-authors are Native Americans, both scientifically trained archaeologists as well as tribal authorities and elders,” said Hart, postdoctoral research associate in the U’s Department of Anthropology. “The lead author really made an effort to include the voice of the people whose story he was helping to tell, to make sure they got it told the right way.”

Horses originated in North America more than 4 million years ago before evolving and dispersing into Eurasia. Study results show that horses were quickly integrated into Indigenous lifeways upon their reintroduction.

A team composed of Indigenous and Western scientists investigated this history through an interdisciplinary study of historic archaeological horse remains that integrated genomic, isotopic, radiocarbon, and paleopathological evidence. They found that horses quickly spread from Spanish settlements in the Southwest into the Northern Rockies and Great Plains by at least the early 1600s via Indigenous trading networks, and they were well-integrated into Indigenous societies and their beliefs, trade and transport networks before the arrival of Europeans in the region in the 18th century. The researchers found that horses were integrated into Indigenous life many decades earlier than was previously understood by the Western scientific community–findings that align with the oral histories of multiple Indigenous groups.

Said Antonia Loretta Afraid of Bear-Cook, co-author and knowledge keeper for the Oglala Lakota, “Together with our horses, we have always understood what it means to be free. What is done to us, is done to them. Their story is our story. In granting this award, you heard us with your hearts. Your award honors our traditional sciences, knowledge and this deep ancestral relationship.”

Hart and Brenner-Coltrain, research associate professor of anthropology at the U, led analysis of one of the specimens with a Utah connection. In the 2010s, a Lehi family found a fossil of the horse while doing some landscaping. At first people assumed it was a wild horse from the Ice Age. However, Hart’s radiocarbon analysis indicated the horse was alive around the 1700s and 1800s. Brenner-Coltrain analyzed stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in the horse’s bones to learn about the horse’s diet and life history. The carbon data suggested that the horse grazed on wild grasses during its entire lifetime, and was foddered on maize during its last stages of life.

Judges praised the paper not only for its significant breadth of scientific methods and authorship but also for the leadership of Indigenous scientists and knowledge keepers.

“Walking the earth as Lakota is to protect, sustain and advocate for all life. This global collaboration and those to come are what is necessary for ourselves and all Peoples to protect their traditional lands, relations and life ways for the sustainability of Grandmother Earth and all life. The time is upon us,” said Chief Joe American Horse, co-author, Oceti Sakowin knowledge keeper and Indigenous scientist.

The findings can serve as a model for further research informed by both Indigenous and Western scientific systems.

“This award creates a global platform of recognition demonstrating the strength inherent in combining Indigenous and Western scientific systems, methods and methodologies to create a powerful new path forward in the sciences,” said co-author Yvette Running Horse Collin, an Oglala Lakota scientist and geneticist.

Said Ludovic Orlando, senior author and study coordinator, Director of the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse, France, “Following the horse brought together research systems built on totally different foundations. This award first and foremost goes to horses for their capacity to help us navigate between different worlds and reconnect them.

Added corresponding author William Taylor, assistant professor and curator of archaeology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and director of the CU Archaeozoology Laboratory, “Winning this prize is a tremendous honor for each of us, and it feels like recognition of an important shift in the way we approach both science and the study of our past. I know that for the folks on this diverse team and for our university, though, it’s just a starting point – and I can’t wait to see where we can build outwards to from here.”


  • Lisa Potter Research communications specialist, University of Utah Communications