Ever since cave paintings were first discovered the debate has raged over whether they’re realistic or symbolic; stick figures, hand prints, and a menagerie of carefully drawn animals.
“The Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle” was painted on the wall of a cave in France about 25,000 years ago. The dappling has been a subject of particularly intense debate, and researchers at the University of York have helped swing it. Leopard spotting, as the dappling pattern is called, is uncommon in most horse breeds today, but was very fashionable during the Baroque period. The question is how common it was when the cave paintings were done.
Researchers from the UK, Germany, USA, Spain, Russia and Mexico analysed teeth and bones from pre-domestic horses from Siberia, Eastern and Western Europe, and the Iberian Peninsula as long ago as 33,000 BC. The research into palaeolithic horse DNA was led by Dr Melanie Pruvost, from the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and the Department of Natural Sciences at the German Archaeological Institute. It was replicated at the University of York, by the Department of Archaeology.
Palaeolithic horses, the research reveals, did include the leopard spotted phenotype, along with bay and black. Bay is the most common, which is also reflected in the paintings. Though the paintings contain other symbolic elements it looks like the horses, at least, represent the animals our ancestors encountered.