Cave Art Depicts Mystery Species

Science and Children, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Cave Art Depicts Mystery Species


More than 15,000 years ago, Ice Age cave artists recorded a previously unknown hybrid species of bison and cattle in great detail on cave walls.

The mystery species, known as the Higgs Bison because of its elusive nature, originated over 120,000 years ago through the hybridization of the extinct Aurochs, the ancestor of modern cattle, and the Ice Age Steppe Bison, which ranged across the cold grasslands from Europe to Mexico.

Research shows that the mystery hybrid species eventually became the ancestor of the modern European bison, which survives in protected reserves such as the Bialowieza forest between Poland and Belarus.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The researchers studied ancient DNA extracted from radiocarbon dated bones and teeth found in caves across Europe, the Urals, and the Caucasus to trace the genetic history of the populations. They found a distinctive genetic signal from many fossil bison bones, which were quite different from the European bison or any other known species.

Radiocarbon dating showed that the mystery species dominated the European record for thousands of years at several points but alternated over time with the Steppe bison, which had previously been considered the only bison species present in late Ice Age Europe. …

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