NOVOSIBIRSK, July 31 (RIA Novosti) – Russian scientists have deciphered the mitochondrial genome of a 50,000-year-old horse found in a Siberian cave that also hosted the remains of a now-extinct subspecies of humans who coexisted with the Neanderthals.
The study of the Denisova Cave horse was done by the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Novosibirsk-based Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, whose representative told RIA Novosti about the findings Wednesday.
Though the DNA was contaminated and had severely deteriorated over time, researchers managed to ascertain that the Denisova horse’s genome was about a 30-percent match for certain populations of modern horses, making it their ancestor, an institute spokeswoman said.
The research group will continue its study of the genome, and expects to establish the horse’s coat color and even its relationship to humans, the spokeswoman said.
The Denisova horse was likely hunted for game, but an early attempt at equine domestication cannot be ruled out, she added.
The earliest evidence of domesticated horse currently comes from Kazakhstan and dates to 3,500 B.C.
The Denisova cave, located in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia, was inhabited by humans for hundreds of thousands of years. It has been the site of thorough archeological research since the 1980s.
The most prominent find so far was 2008’s “Woman X” – remnants of a so-called Denisova hominin, a subspecies of Homo that branched out from Neanderthals around 640,000 years ago. Body fragments belonging to “Woman X” and several other members of the now-extinct human population – which apparently interbred with Homo Sapiens – that were found in the Altai cave were dated to 40,000 B.C.