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Before horses, donkey hybrids were bred for war

The “War Panel” of the “Standard of Ur” exhibited at the British Museum in London. Credits: © Thierry Grange / IJM / CNRS-Université de Paris

Iconography and texts from Mesopotamia 4,500 years ago show that the elite used horses for travel and war. However, the nature of these animals remained a mystery.of Science Advances (January 14, 2022) The team at Institut Jacques Monod (CNRS / Université de Paris) used ancient DNA to show that these animals were the result of mating domestic and wild donkeys. This makes it the oldest known example of animal hybrids produced by the Shiro Mesopotamian society 500 years before the arrival of livestock in the area.


Horses have played an important role in the evolution of war throughout history.The domesticated horse did not appear in the Fertile Crescent, Until about 4,000 years agoThe Sumerians have already used carriages on the battlefield for centuries, as evidenced by the famous “Standard of Ur”, a Sumerian mosaic 4,500 years ago. The cuneiform tablets of this period also refer to a top-notch horse with high market value called “Kunga”. However, the exact nature of this animal has been controversial for decades.

A team of paleo-geneticists at Institut Jacques Monod (CNRS / Université de Paris) are addressing this question by studying the genome of Ikui from a 4,500-year-old prince’s burial complex in Unmuermala (northern Syria). increase.Based on morphological and archaeological criteria, these are animalIs buried in a separate facility and has been proposed by American animal archaeologists to be a prestigious “Kungus”.

Although degraded, the genomes of these animals can be compared to the genomes of other horses: horses, domestic donkeys, and wild donkeys of the family Hemionae, sequenced specifically for this study. The latter include the remains of a 11,000-year-old horse from the oldest known temple, Gobeklitepe (now southeast of Turkey), and the last representative of a wild donkey in Syria that disappeared in the early 20th century. It is included. Analysis shows that Umm el Mara horses are first-generation hybrids resulting from domestic donkey-male hemione mating. Because Kungus was sterile and Hemion was wild, domesticated females had to be mated with previously captured Hemions (represented in Assyrian bas-reliefs from Nineveh).

  • Before horses, donkey hybrids were bred for war

    Ummuel Mara (Northern Syria) is a burial facility for princes 4,500 years ago. Several horses were found on the site and buried in their own facility. Credits: © Glenn Schwartz / John Hopkins University.

  • Before horses, donkey hybrids were bred for war

    Enclosure D with T-shaped pillars in Gobeklitepe, southeast of present-day Turkey. The site contains the oldest known temple in the world. Credits: © German Archaeological Institute, Berlin (Germany)

  • Before horses, donkey hybrids were bred for war

    The Nineveh panel “Hunting Wild Donkeys” (645-635 BC) (British Museum, London) shows the hemions being captured. Credits: © Eva-Maria Geigl / IJM / CNRS-Université de Paris

Rather than tame the wild horses that live in the area, the Sumerians produce and use hybrids, combine the qualities of their two parents, and are stronger and faster than donkeys (and much faster than horses). Fast), but produced offspring that are easier to control than Hemion. These Kungas were eventually replaced by the arrival of easy-to-breed domestic horses when imported from the Pontic-Caspian grasslands into the region.


Genetic testing suggests that domestication of horses has not begun in Anatolia


For more information:
E. Andrew Bennett et al, the earliest artificial hybrid animal, the genetic identity of Kungas in white Mesopotamia, Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abm0218.. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abm0218

Quote: Before the horse, a donkey hybrid was bred for the war (January 14, 2022).

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