By TAMARA COHEN
Well spotted: Cave paintings, such as the 25,000-year-old Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle, show horses with a spotted or 'leopard' coat. DNA evidence shows this is an accurate depiction of the animal's coat
The paintings had been put down to a caveman’s vivid imagination.
But scientists now say that horses with dalmatian-like coats depicted in a 25,000-year-old etching probably did roam Western Europe in ancient times.
DNA analysis of bones and teeth from the Stone Age has uncovered a genetic mutation which would have caused the distinctive pattern of black spots on a white coat.
Stampede: Breathtaking art on the walls of the Hillaire Chamber of the Chauvet Cave in France. Black and bay horses are commonly depicted in cave art that dates back 25,000 years
Researchers from the University of York and international colleagues tested DNA from 31 wild horse fossils found in 15 locations across Europe, from France to Siberia.
Six shared a gene associated with this ‘leopard-like’ spotting.
Of the ten fossils found in Western Europe, from sites in south western France and the Cantabrian coast of Spain, four had the ‘leopard’ gene, suggesting these horses could have been quite common at the time.
The other two matches were found at a site in modern Ukraine, but may have been brought there by traders. Horses – mostly brown or black – were often painted by cavemen.
But one of the most impressive surviving cave drawings, called the Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle and painted 25,000 years ago in south-west France, shows spotted horses.
Panel Of The Chinese Horses: This painting, on the wall of the famous Lascaux Cave in south-western France, shows a more traditional colouring, which led to theories of the more elaborate paintings being symbolic
Found in the 1920s, it triggered a debate as to whether the animals existed, or were an elaborate artistic creation.
There are breeds of dalmatian-like horses today, but they had previously been thought to be a modern phenomenon.
Professor Terry O’Connor, from the archaeology department at York University, told the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: ‘People drew what they saw, and their representations have potential to provide first-hand insights into the physical environment that humans encountered.’
It was unlikely the horses evolved for camouflage as this part of Europe was covered in tundra.
‘They became established for reasons related to the environment which we do not understand yet,’ said Professor O’Connor.
In the flesh: Dalmatian horses are now much more common
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Well spotted! DNA evidence proves ancient artists were painting REAL 'leopard' horses... not just daubing abstract art
By TAMARA COHEN