Image of the Day: Spotted Stone-Age Horses Verified by DNA

Pech_Merle.Horses

The actual existence of spotted horses in Stone Age cave murals at Pech-Merle, France –long believed to be "spirit horses"– have been verified by Arne Ludwig of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany, and colleagues, who have analysed DNA extracted from the remains of ancient horses in Siberia, eastern and western Europe.

Six had variants of the pigment genes that produce the spotted-coat pattern. Four were from western Europe where the Pech-Merle cave is situated and the other two were found in eastern Europe.

The researchers concluded that their findings do not necessarily exclude religious explanations for why the spotty horses were painted. "In my opinion, a high level of natural realism in the paintings doesn't exclude a spiritual or religious dimension to them," Ludwig says.

The researchers added that the "leopard" pattern appeared to pass on an evolutionary penalty, because modern day horses with two copies of the gene variant have a pigment abnormality impairing their night vision.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1108982108 and newscientist.com

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