Monday, November 7, 2011

Ancient DNA provides new insights into cave paintings of horses

This article focuses on the realism behind ancient cave paintings from the Paleolithic period. Essentially, researchers were searching for evidence supporting that white-spotted phenotypes of pre-domestic horses existed in the Paleolithic period. DNA studies have already produced the necessary evidence proving that bay and black phenotypes of pre-domestic horses existed. The argument in question is whether or not the artists behind these cave paintings were portraying their natural surroundings or if they were simply drawing random abstract images. The paintings in question are “The Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle” in France which shows white horses with dark spots dating back to 25,000 years ago.

The study consisted of researchers from six different countries genotyping nine coat-color loci in 31 pre-domestic horses from up to 35,000 years ago from different areas of Europe. The analysis consisted of bones and teeth samples from 15 different locations. The study found that 6 of the 31 samples (4 Pleistocene and 2 Copper Age) shared the gene associated with the leopard-spotting phenotype. 18 of the 31 had the bay coat color and 7 of the 31 had the black coat color.

Professor Michi Hofreiter, Department of Biology at the University of York said that the “results suggest that, at least for wild horses, Paleolithic cave paintings, including the remarkable depictions of spotted horses, were closely rooted in the real-life appearance of animals.” This in turn means that the paintings found in these caves reflect the natural environment of the humans who painted them. The research was led by Dr. Melanie Pruvost, Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and the Department of Natural Sciences at the German Archaeological Institute. According to Pruvost, “we can already see that this kind of study will greatly improve our knowledge about the past.” Hopefully these findings can help shed light on previous debates regarding whether or not the cave paintings had an abstract, underlying meaning, or whether they were simply a means of portraying what was seen on a daily basis in the European habitat.

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