Tag Archives: horse

Wild donkeys and horses dig wells in the desert, help life thrive

Burros in Arizona. Credit: Bureau of Land Management.

The first horses and donkeys came to the Americas on ships during Christopher Columbus’ Second Voyage. Although they were essential to European colonization, the two animals are typically seen as invasive species that are not part of the local wildlife. But rather than harming other animals, wild horses and donkeys in North America may actually help local plants and animals thrive by digging deep wells that provide water in the desert.

The desert’s ecosystem engineers

Wild horses, known as mustangs, are often in the spotlight, but the wild burros of the American West can be just as fascinating. Burros, or wild donkeys, are originally from Africa and are members of the horse family, Equidae. Today, most wild burros reside in Arizona where they used to accompany explorers and pioneers on their treks throughout the West in their use as pack animals.

After the 19th-century gold mining boom ended, many donkeys escaped or were turned loose. But since they are naturally adapted to surviving under the harshest conditions, wild herds eventually formed and flourished — and it seems they weren’t alone.

While out in western Arizona as a field technician studying river systems, Erick Lundgren, now a biologist at the University of Technology Sydney, noticed how burros would dig deep wells to gain access to water. Later, other thirsty animals would profit.

Credit: E.J. Lundgren el al., Science.

Lundgren knew about African elephants and the wells they dig, which are sometimes the only source of water for other wildlife during the unforgiving dry season. Could this also be true in Arizona for burros and wild horses, another animal known for digging wells? That was an intriguing question, especially since most biologists class the two as “agents of biodiversity harm” simply because they are not native species in the region.

Over the course of three summers, Lundgren and colleagues surveyed sites in the Sonoran Desert, stretching across Arizona and California, following and recording various wild horses and donkeys. They also set up camera traps to learn how other animals were engaging with the wells.

Credit: E.J. Lundgren el al., Science.
Credit: E.J. Lundgren el al., Science.

The wells dug by the equids could be quite large, as deep as two meters (six feet). Soon after the wells were completed, the cameras caught various species flocking to the new water sources, including mule deer, bobcats, javelinas, coyotes, and Woodhouse’s scrub jay. Besides animals, the researchers also spotted river tree species sprouting from some of the wells, indicating their double role as plant nurseries.

“The donkey wells kept water in the system. And these features were used by pretty much every species you could picture, including some surprising ones like black bears, that we didn’t expect to see in the desert,” Lundgren told AP.

These wells were particularly populated during the hottest and driest parts of the summer, oftentimes being the only available water source for miles. As such, the authors of the new study published in Science describe the wild horses and donkeys as “buffers” against extreme variability of desert streams.

Invasive or enabling?

Considering the ecological value that these wells bring, the classification of the wild equids as ‘invasive biology’ may be worth reconsidering. After all, horses were actually native to North America until a mysterious extinction event 12,000 years ago. And as human activity increasingly affects perennial streams, either directly or due to climate change, the role of these horses and donkeys will become increasingly important to support these ecosystems.

Today fewer than 9,000 burros remain. Like their cousins the wild horses, burros in the Western United States have been rounded up en masse, often to make room for livestock grazing, big game hunting, and other commercial uses of public lands. May is Burro Awareness Month so we can take advantage of this opportunity to celebrate these steadfast and hardy icons of the American West.

Researchers want to clone 40,000-year-old extinct horse — a step towards woolly mammoth resurrection

foal horse

Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU.

The perfectly preserved remains of a baby horse belonging to a now-extinct species made headlines when they were unveiled to the world last week. Now, researchers in Russian and South Korea say that the 40,000-year-old foal, discovered in the Siberian permafrost, could be cloned back to life. If they are successful, the achievement would mark an important milestone towards the ultimate goal of resurrecting the wooly mammoth.

The 40,000-year-old horse was found buried beneath 30 meters of permafrost, which preserved it so well that its tail, mane, and hooves were still attached.

According to Semyon Grigoriev, the head of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, the foal was only 20 days old when it perished. But thanks to the astonishing conservation power of the permafrost from the “Mouth of Hell” — the tadpole-shaped, one-km-long crater where the horse was found, initially created by the Soviets when they cleared the forest in the area  — researchers were able to recover muscle tissues from the animal.

These undamaged samples could prove extremely valuable to biotech research — among them, a project that aims to resurrect the now-extinct Equus lenesis, also known as the Lena horse.

Hwang Woo Suk flew in from Seoul, South Korea to personally supervise the DNA extraction process from the foal. If they find viable, undamaged cells, these could be used to clone this unique animal.

 “We are trying to make a primary culture using this baby horse,” said Suk, a former professor at Seoul National University. “If we get live cells from this ancient baby horse, it is a wonderful promise to people in terms of cloning.”

Suk is a pioneer of stem cell research, who has fallen out of grace in the scientific community after he was found guilty of falsifying some of his findings. He admitted to using eggs from paid donors in a study that claimed to recover stem cells from a cloned human embryo. Bringing an extinct species back from the dead may be a way for the scientist to redeem himself.

Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU.

Previously, the South Korean researchers obtained living cells from a dead pet dog frozen by its owners. That was quite an important achievement because water crystalizes and destroys the cells.

Just like they would clone any other animal, the scientists plan to transplant genetic information from a specialized cell into an unfertilized egg cell whose genetic information has been destroyed or physically removed. The mare of a horse species similar to the extinct Lena will be used as a surrogate.

Once they are confident enough in their abilities, scientists plan to do the same for a wooly mammoth with an elephant as the surrogate.

Most of the world’s wooly mammoths were killed around 10,500 years ago, the prime causes are still up for debate. Human hunting, climate change or both have been identified by scientists as prime suspects. But on a small island off the coast of Alaska, an isolated population of wooly mammoths lingered on for thousands of years. They too died around 5,600 years, and with them, their entire species went extinct.

In 2014, a team of international researchers uncovered a 43,000-year-old female from the Siberian tundra which still had well-preserved muscles, kidneys, and even blood.

However, the differences between a mammoth and an elephant are much more significant than those between a modern-day horse and the extinct Lena.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As such, cloning the Lena horse would be an immense breakthrough for scientists looking to bring back species back from the dead. There’s a lot of ground to cover though and, right now, people are probing in the dark. For instance, no one has been able to recover a living cell from ancient tissue before — which is the current plan. That would be unique in itself.

Previously, scientists led by George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard University, merged elephant and mammoth DNA — another important step for cloning the extinct beasts. While DNA can survive for a long time under the ‘freezer’, it’s far from being perfect — it’s impractical for cloning purposes since many bits and pieces have been damaged by the environment, which is why the researchers had to piece together the mammoth DNA with bits from the elephant.

Besides wooly mammoths and the Lena horse, scientists would like to resurrect dozens of other extinct species such as the saber-tooth cat, the Dodo, or the Quagga.

Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU.

Perfectly preserved 40,000-year-old foal belonging to now-extinct horse found in Siberian Permafrost

Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU.

Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU.

While they were on an expedition in the Yakutia region of Siberia, Japanese scientists came across a one-of-a-kind discovery: the remains of a foul belonging to a now-extinct species of horse. The 40,000-year-old horse was found buried beneath 30 meters of permafrost, which preserved it so well that scientists found it with its tail, mane, and hooves still attached.

According to Semyon Grigoryev, the head of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, the foul was just three months old when it died during the late Palaeolithic period.

Left: nose of the horse, Right: hooves of the horse. Credit: Michil Yakoklev/North-Eastern Federal University.

Left: nose of the horse, Right: hooves of the horse. Credit: Michil Yakoklev/North-Eastern Federal University.

Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU.

Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU.

Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU.

The 38-inch baby horse still had all of its internal organs when Japanese researchers from North-Eastern Federal and Kindai Universities found it. The foul even retained its dark brown coat and, by one account, its legs had ‘zebra-like’ stripes — everything was extraordinarily preserved despite tens of thousands of years have passed since the baby horse’s death.

The horse was an Equus lenesis, also known as the Lena horse, which is now extinct.

“This is the first find in the world of a pre-historic horse of such a young age and with such an amazing level of preservation,” Grigoryev told The Siberian Times. 

Besides the novelty of finding such a well preserved ancient specimen, the discovery may lead to other important scientific developments. Researchers also collected soil samples from where the horse was found, meaning they can now reconstruct what the environment looked like during the late Pleistocene.

An aerial view of Batagai. Credit: Siberian Times.

An aerial view of Batagai. Credit: Siberian Times.

The horse was found in Batagai depression, which is also called the “Mouth of Hell” — a tadpole-shaped, one-km-long crater initially created by the Soviets when they cleared the forest in the area. Scientists say the gash in the tundra is now being enlarged and shaped by climate change. Who knows what else they might find in the future as the permafrost clears away.

Although they don’t know exactly what happened to the young creature, it could be that it died in its sleep.

Experts that took part in the expedition came up with a version that the foal could have drowned after getting into some kind of a natural trap,” Grigory Savvinov, deputy head of the North-Eastern Federal University, told The Siberian Times. 

There are no obvious wounds on the animal so an autopsy will determine what the animal’s last day looked like and how it finally perished.

Mongolian herder removing first premolar, or 'wolf tooth', from a young horse during the spring roundup using a screwdriver. Credit: Dimitri Staszewski. Taylor et al. 2018. Origins of Equine Dentistry. PNAS.

Mongolian herders were the first horse dentists, 3,000 years ago

The open steps of eastern Eurasian may have been the birthplace of veterinary dentistry. It is here that scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History found ancient horse remains whose baby teeth had been removed by the local people. Researchers estimate the remains are from 1300-700 BC, making them the oldest known evidence for veterinary dental care.

Mongolian herder removing first premolar, or 'wolf tooth', from a young horse during the spring roundup using a screwdriver. Credit: Dimitri Staszewski. Taylor et al. 2018. Origins of Equine Dentistry. PNAS.

Mongolian herder removing first premolar, or ‘wolf tooth’, from a young horse during the spring roundup using a screwdriver. Credit: Dimitri Staszewski. Taylor et al. 2018. Origins of Equine Dentistry. PNAS.

Mongolia is known as the land of the horses, where the animals occupy a central role in daily life — and have done so for thousands of years.

“It is not possible to imagine Mongolian history without horses,” says J. Tserendeleg, president of the Mongolian Association for Conservation of Nature and the Environment. “I think it is not possible to view the future of Mongolia without horses as well. Mongolia is not Mongolia without horses.”

It was thanks to horses that the nomadic armies of Mongols were able to breach the Great Wall of China and conquer their way to the heart of Europe, where they became known as “Hell’s Horsemen.” Were it not for horses, legendary thirteenth-century warrior Genghis Khan would have never been able to establish an empire that spanned from Hungary to Korea and from Siberia to Tibet.

Even in the twenty-first century, Mongolia still has a horse-based culture and retains much of its pastoral traditions. Its 2.4 million people are semi-nomadic and support themselves primarily by breeding five domestic species.

It’s no wonder that the Mongols were also probably the first to practice horse dental care, seeing how the animals are central to their livelihoods. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesWilliam Taylor and colleagues described horse remains from an ancient Mongolian pastoral culture known as the Deer Stone-Khirigsuur Culture. These ancient people are famous for the impressive horse burials they made, which contained from dozens to even thousands of dead horses.

A horse skull placed next to a deer stone in central Mongolia. Ancient and modern Mongolian herders alike revere both. Credit: William Taylor.

A horse skull placed next to a deer stone in central Mongolia. Ancient and modern Mongolian herders alike revere both. Credit: William Taylor.

By analyzing the remains, researchers found that Deer Stone-Khirigsuur people used surprisingly sophisticated veterinary dental procedures to remove baby teeth that would have caused young horses pain or trouble feeding. Previously, research had shown that the same people were the first in eastern Eurasia to heavily use horses for food products and may have been among the first to use horses for mounted riding. Naturally, these developments led to the invention of equine veterinary care.

“We may think of veterinary care as kind of a Western science,” Taylor said in a statement, “but herders in Mongolia today practice relatively sophisticated procedures using very simple equipment. This results of our study show that a careful understanding of horse anatomy and a tradition of care was first developed, not in the sedentary civilizations of China or the Mediterranean, but centuries earlier, among the nomadic people whose livelihood depended on the well-being of their horses.”

It’s also no coincidence that changes in horse dentistry were accompanied by technological improvements in horse control, such as the incorporation of bronze and metal mouthpieces into bridles used for riding. This technology spread into eastern Eurasia during the early first millennium BC, offering riders better control over their horses, which would have offered them the upper hand during warfare. The horses themselves, however, suffered as the metal in the mouthpieces introduces oral problems, including painful interactions with a vestigial tooth, known as a “wolf tooth.” Herders responded by developing methods for extracting the problematic tooth not all that different from the way many veterinary dentists would remove it today.

“In many ways, the movements of horses and horse-mounted peoples during the first millennium BCE reshaped the cultural and biological landscapes of Eurasia. Dr. Taylor’s study shows that veterinary dentistry – developed by Inner Asian herders – may have been a key factor that helped to stimulate the spread of people, ideas, and organisms between East and West,” said Nicole Boivin, Director of the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

Saddle up: New evidence forces us to rethink what we know about horse history

Using genetic and archaeological data, researchers are painting a new picture of these animals evolved and were domesticated. The old theory, it seems, was a bit hoarse.

Wait… leopard spots?!

A representation of how ancient horses might have looked like (actually a recreation of a Przewalski’s horse bred with leopard coloring. Image credits: Ludovic Orlando, Seas Goddard and Alan Outram.

The earliest evidence of horse domestication comes from around 5,500 years ago. Existing evidence suggests that these horses were first domesticated by the Botai — an ancient culture (c. 3700–3100 BC) from today’s Kazakhstan. The Botai people were connected to their horses, and we know they did domesticate the animals. We don’t know if they were the first to do so, but they’re the best candidate archaeologists have found so far. It has also been suggested that these Botai horses are the progenitors of all modern domesticated breeds found worldwide. But this study found otherwise.

The team of researchers analyzed the genome of 22 horses whose lives collectively span the last 4,100 years. They found that none of them are descended from Botai horses, but they did find something else that’s shocking: the Botai horses were actually the direct ancestors of Przewalski’s horses — the only breed of horses that’s still truly wild and was never domesticated. So instead of the domesticated horses deriving from today’s wild horses, it’s the other way around.

Photo of reintroduced Przewalski’s horse taken at the “Seer” release site. Image credits: Claudia Feh / Wikipedia.

Ludovic Orlando  Professor of Molecular Archaeology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and Research Director at the CNRS, University of Toulouse, France, said:

“Our findings literally turn current population models of horse origins upside-down: what we used to understand as the last wild horse on earth is in fact the descendant of the earliest domestic horses, which simply escaped human pressure and became feral during the last few millennia.”

The study indicates that domesticated animals can become wild once again, and in the process, they can change other characteristics as well. For instance, evidence suggests that some Botai horses had a characteristic leopard spot pattern, which Przewalski’s horses lost at some point in their evolution. The selective pressure exhibited by humans during the domestication process can speed up and intensify this process. Just think of how different all the dog breeds are — and they’re just breeds, not even different subspecies. Orlando suspects allele responsible for this coloration was probably eliminated by natural selection as it also caused night blindness.

Archaeological dig in Kazakhstan which helped paint a more accurate of the horse populations. The Botai built corrals to keep horses in large numbers, and they not only ate their meat and used them to hunt, but they also milked them. Image credits: Alan Outram.

A sad story

So, this still leaves us with the question of the population that rise to today’s equines. It is nearly impossible to uncover the earliest stages of domestication through genetic analysis alone because of the selective pressure imposed by humans.

As for the horses themselves, there is a sad irony to their story. While they greatly enhanced the survival chances of human populations, this partnership did little for the horses. Ancient populations like the Botai grew them for meat, milked them, and even used them to hunt other horses. Professor Outram said:

“There is a lot of evidence in the archaeological record demonstrating that Botai horses were husbanded. It is not just horse meat that Botai people consumed, but also mare’s milk. It was essential to Botai people to manage the horse resource as it provided the basis of their subsistence strategy. Probably horses were even first domesticated at Botai because horse riding somehow facilitated horse hunting.”

However, this study also paints out a glimmer of hope for the horses: some of them got out and moved on to become Przewalski’s horses and become completely wild. Unfortunately, Przewalski’s horses are currently endangered. At one point extinct in the land, they were recently reintroduced to their native habitat in Mongolia. Every Przewalski horse presently living is descended from 9 of the 13 horses captured in 1945; however, there is a free-ranging population estimated at 300 horses. There is also a wild population in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone protected from interference by humans, which is thought to be growing.

Journal Reference: Gaunitz et al. “Ancient genomes revisit the ancestry of domestic and Przewalski’s horses”. Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aao3297

2,000-year-old horseracing rules found in Turkey

Horseracing is one of the oldest sporting events, with races being organized for thousands of years. But even back then, rules were quite strict, as archaeologists have found.

Professor Hasan Bahar from Selçuk University’s History Department and his team found a tablet detailing horseracing rules 2,000 years ago. The tablet was found in the Lukuyanus Monument, raised in honor of a jockey called Lukuyanus.

“This place was the site of a hippodrome. This tablet refers to a Roman jockey named Lukuyanus. From this tablet we can better understand that horse races and horse breeding were done in this area,” Bahar said, adding that the Hittites built such monuments for the surrounding mountains, which they believed were holy.

Some things on the tablet are quite interesting. It seems organizers tried to avoid a winning monopoly, implementing a “gentlemanly rule”.

“There are horseracing rules on the tablet. It says that if a horse comes in first place in a race it cannot participate in other races, while another horse of the winning horse’s owner also cannot enter another race. In this way, others were given a chance to win. This was a beautiful rule, showing that unlike races in the modern world, races back then were based on gentlemanly conduct,” Bahar also said.

The historical significance of the tablet is huge. Not only are tablets with sporting rules extremely rare, but this is the oldest one found so far.

“I’ve never seen a similar tablet that contains the rules of sports and the way the race is carried out. There are sources that mention horseracing but there weren’t any that described the rules. We can say that this tablet is the oldest one describing the rules of horse racing,” he said.


Horse domestication origins revealed after extensive gene study

HorseHorses are arguably one of the most helpful animals man has ever managed to domesticate. At first they were used as source of meat and milk, but it was soon evident that horses were a lot more suited as labor animals than as a direct food medium. Important agricultural advancements were made possible thanks to horses, and due to their reliable nature, horses practically moved the work for thousands of years prior to the introduction of automobiles. Trade, infrastructure, and, of course, war efforts were profoundly interlinked to horses. When and where were horses first domesticated, however, has been a question scientists have been intrigued with for many years.

A new study by scientists at the University of Cambridge finally sheds light on the origin of horse domestication, after an extensive genetic research revealed horses were domesticated 6,000 years ago on the grasslands of Ukraine, southwest Russia and west Kazakhstan.

An extensive genetic database of over 300 Eurasian horses was used to trace the origins of domestic breeds, be it warm, cold or hot blood. This comprehensive genetic data was then fed into computer models developed to look at different scenarios for domestication. Researchers determined that the domestic horse’s common ancestor, Equus ferus, inhabited the western Eurasian steppes around 160,000 years ago. Apparently, evidence suggests that wild mares were used to mate with existing domesticated horses, since breeding is far from easy in captivity.

“Our research clearly shows that the original founder population of domestic horses was established in the western Eurasian Steppe, an area where the earliest archaeological evidence for domesticated horses has been found,” said Vera Warmuth, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

“The spread of horse domestication differed from that of many other domestic animal species, in that spreading herds were augmented with local wild horses on an unprecedented scale. If these restocking events involved mainly wild mares, we can explain the large number of female lineages in the domestic horse gene pool without having to invoke multiple domestication origins.”

The findings were reported in the journal PNAS.

A suggestive illustration portraying a modern day Morgan horse nose-to-nose to an artist's impression of the Sifrhippus sandrae, the first horse, which was just about the size of a house cat. (c) anielle Byerley, Florida Museum of Natural History

The first horse was the size of house cat and got even smaller as climate warmed 56 million years ago

Bergmann’s rule states that mammals of a given genus or species are smaller in hotter climates, and bigger in colder climates. Adapted, when faced with climate change cycles, mammals shirk as temperature rises and scale back up in size, once the cycle ends and makes room for cooling. Simple correlation, based on fossils and temperature readings from their given periods, seems to offer evidence supporting this principle – mammals shrink as the Earth warms. A latest study performed by scientists at Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, which looked at a brief, yet dramatic climate change,comes to the same conclusion.

A suggestive illustration portraying a modern day Morgan horse nose-to-nose to an artist's impression of the Sifrhippus sandrae, the first horse, which was just about the size of a house cat. (c) anielle Byerley, Florida Museum of Natural History

A suggestive illustration portraying a modern day Morgan horse nose-to-nose to an artist's impression of the Sifrhippus sandrae, the first horse, which was just about the size of a house cat. (c) Danielle Byerley, Florida Museum of Natural History

Called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM for short, this period in Earth’s history took place 56 million years ago and was marked by significant global warming, which lead to a temperature increase between 9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit at the start, only to drop to almost initial values at the end – the age lasted for 175,000 years. It may seem like a long time, but in geological terms, well it’s nothing more than a blink of an eye – still a lot had happen.

“We had known it was a really unique event for a while in the sense that it was a very rapid, large scale global warming event. And it marks one of the most important moments in mammalian evolution in the sense that we see the first occurrence of several modern orders of mammals, including the primates that are clearly traceable as the direct ancestors of the group that we’re a part of, as well as the ancestors of horses, the ancestors of cows and hippos and camels,” said Jonathan Bloch, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

The tiniest horse to roam the Earth

One such mammal was Sifrhippus, one of the first horse species, which  shrank from about 12 pounds average weight to about eight and a half pounds as the climate warmed over thousands of years. The first horses were a lot different from those of today; back then, they weren’t larger than a small dog or house cat. Interesting enough, the only Sifrhippus fossils found have been in Bighorn Basin of Wyomin, which today is the largest wild mustang reservation.

By studying various fossils like teeth or fragmentary jaws, the researchers were surprised to see the Sifrhippus become 30 percent smaller through the climate event , only to get 75 percent larger as it passed. They were able to tell this by studying the oxygen isotopes found in the horses’ teeth.

“What he showed was that exactly coincident with this body size change that we had documented there were shifts in the oxygen isotope that showed it was getting warmer as the horses were getting smaller. And then as the horses became larger again it became cooler,” Bloch said.

Indeed, the researcher’s findings conclude the change in size was, as suspected, driven primarily by the warming trend. A warmer climate seems to induce a shrinkage effect in mammals, which might be  able to shed excess heat easier.

Mammals and climate change today?

Right now, the Earth is warming at a constant rate, however the temperature increase ins’t taking place through thousands of years, but hundreds – induced by humans, if not accelerated. Will today’s mammals get smaller in the future as well? Well, late last year I wrote a piece on how climate change has lead to a lose in size of  3-17% for most plants, while fish shrank by 6-22% – polar bears, among others, have been reportedly getting smaller as well. So, this is already happening. As for humans, we’ve been getting bigger and bigger, mostly because of better nutrition – the same goes for the ego, only its food is gluttony.

The team of researchers’ findings were reported in the journal Science.

Story and illustration via NYT.


Cavemen had spotted horses – and they painted them

The black and white spotted horses found on cave paintings existed during the last ice age, some 25.000 years ago, according to a new research published by scientists from the University of York.

The ancient Dalmatian style painted horses have puzzled archaeologists and paleontologists for years now, as they were unable to figure out just what they described – horses seemed to be out of the question, and most believed they were actually abstract or symbolic drawings thought up by Stone Age artists.

However, new DNA analysis of bones and teeth from over 30 prehistoric wild horses has shown that some shared a gene that would have caused the unusual dotted patterns that have been witnessed on these murals.

“The spotted horses are featured in a frieze which includes hand outlines and abstract patterns of spots,” Professor Terry O’Connor, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, said.

He also added:

“The juxtaposition of elements has raised the question of whether the spotted pattern is in some way symbolic or abstract, especially since many researchers considered a spotted coat phenotype unlikely for Paleolithic horses. However, our research removes the need for any symbolic explanation of the horses. People drew what they saw”.