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The Kunga Is The Oldest Hybrid Bred By Humans
4,500 years ago, a mysterious hybrid equine was likely for used for warfare
The kunga is an equine hybrid identified first in the early 2000’s from a site called Umm el-Marra in northern Syria. This site dated back to 2,600 B.C. The remains of these skeletons closely resemble horse-like animals that are represented in some Sumerian artifacts. A new paper in Science analyzed the kunga’s genome1.
They compared the genome of the kunga to that of horses, donkeys and also hemippe. They were able to identify the kunga derived from a female donkey and a male hemippe about 4,500 years ago. This makes the kunga the oldest evidence of a human created hybrid. Using a similar comparative genetic technique, this group also identified another ancient mule from 1,000 B.C.2, which makes that specimen the next oldest human created hybrid known to date.
Senior author, Eva-Maria Geigl suspects they were created for warfare. As we all know, getting a donkey to do anything is next to impossible. And since no wild-asses could be tamed, this hybrid likely had characteristic that were sought by ancient Sumerians to pull carts as depicted below.
The curiosity is that the zoo archaeological evidence of the last hemippe is at least a century older than the first kunga. And since horses came to the region much later3, just how the kunga was bred is a mystery currently.
Bennett, E. A., Weber, J., Bendhafer, W., Champlot, S., Peters, J., Schwartz, G. M., Grange, T., & Geigl, E.-M. (2022). The genetic identity of the earliest human-made hybrid animals, the kungas of Syro-Mesopotamia. Science Advances, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abm0218
Guimaraes, S., Arbuckle, B. S., Peters, J., Adcock, S. E., Buitenhuis, H., Chazin, H., Manaseryan, N., Uerpmann, H.-P., Grange, T., & Geigl, E.-M. (2020). Ancient DNA shows domestic horses were introduced in the southern Caucasus and Anatolia during the Bronze Age. Science Advances, 6(38), eabb0030. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abb0030
Librado, P., Khan, N., Fages, A. et al. The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes. Nature 598, 634–640 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04018-9