Researchers are examining the DNA of horses – and what they’ve discovered upends everything we thought we knew. A new study claims the last “wild” horses on the planet are actually descendants of horses domesticated in Kazakhstan 5,500 years ago by people of the Botai culture. This also means that today’s domesticated horses don’t come from the Botai, as previously thought. In fact, the origins of domesticated horses are now a mystery.
Przewalski’s horses, thought to be the last truly wild horses on Earth, are actually descended from domesticated horses, which means that the last wild horses probably went extinct hundreds or thousands of years ago. Przewalski’s horses nearly went extinct, but 15 individuals were rounded up and protected a century ago. It is these horses that all modern Przewalski’s horses descend from.
Until now, scientists believed that modern domesticated horses descended from horses bred by the Botai people. But if Przewalski’s horses come from the Botai, it means that modern domesticated horses don’t. That leaves scientists scratching their heads about where domesticated horses descend from.
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From a research standpoint, this finding is both exciting and disappointing. It points to a huge loss in biodiversity, and it means that all the information we’ve been gathering on “wild horses” is actually information on feral animals. The findings were recently published in the journal Science by Sandra Olsen from the University of Kansas and Ludovic Orlando from the National Center for Scientific Research.