Story at a glance
- A team of researchers recently discovered the kunga as the earliest example of human animal hybrid breeding.
- The animal was a cross between a female donkey and a male Syrian wild ass and was used to pull war chariots, transport royalty and help with agricultural work.
- Kungas held a high status in ancient Mesopotamia for about 500 years until horses were introduced to the area 4,000 years ago.
Scientists recently discovered an ancient Mesopotamian animal known as a “kunga” that was a cross between a donkey and a wild ass — and is the oldest known human-bred hybrid.
Before horses arrived in the area, large male kungas were used to pull war wagons, while smaller one were used for agricultural purposes like pulling ploughs. The animals were considered a status symbol in ancient Mesopotamia, with archaeologists finding references of the animals being given as dowries in royal marriages and costing six times as much as a donkey in cuneiform tablets from Syro-Mesopotamia.
Archaeologists have long assumed the animals were a mix of a donkey with another animal, since horses didn’t appear in the area until 4,000 years ago, but have had little evidence to prove it until now.
A team of archeologists, geneticists and paleontologists used DNA sequencing to finally solve the long-standing mystery of the kunga’s genetic makeup, according to a recently published study in Science Advances.
Researchers were able to discover that the kunga was a mix between a female donkey and a male Syrian wild ass by analyzing the bones of kungas that had been buried in an elite burial complex in Tell Umm el-Marra in northern Syria.
The discovery is considered the earliest example of hybrid animal breeding.
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