Photos: Ancient Cave Painting Mystery Solved by DNA

DNA and drawings

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Carole Fritz and Gilles Tosello)

Researchers have solved a puzzle about a mysterious bison in Europe by studying ancient DNA and cave paintings. They found that modern European bison appeared about 120,000 years ago, after the extinct steppe bison mated with the ancestors of modern cattle, making a hybrid animal. Moreover, cave paintings clearly show the difference between the hybrid animal and the steppe bison, showing that even ancient people noticed the difference between the two animals. [Read the Full Story About the Hybrid Bison]

DNA work

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Julien Soubrier)

Researchers examine ancient DNA taken from the previously unknown hybrid species of bison.

Ancient DNA

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Julien Soubrier)

Scientists extract ancient DNA from ground-up bison bones and teeth.

Bovid bones

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Julien Soubrier)

Bones from the hybrid species of bison.

Cave paintings

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Creative Commons)

Cave paintings from the Cave of Niaux in southwestern France. Some of the paintings the researchers examined were made 18,000 years ago, and depicted creatures with long horns and large forequarters that likely descended from the steppe bison. In contrast, more recent paintings from about 12,000 to 17,000 years ago show animals with shorter horns and smaller humps, much like the modern European bison.

European bison

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Rafał Kowalczyk)

The modern European bison (also called wisent or Bison bonasus) from the Białowieża Forest in Poland. [Read the Full Story About the Hybrid Bison]

Modern bison

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Rafał Kowalczyk)

Modern European bison have thick fur coats that help keep them warm during the winter. They also have short horns, much like the cave painting drawings of what is likely a hybrid creature.

Marsoulas artwork

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Carole Fritz)

A reproduction of the modern European bison in the Marsoulas Cave, located in Haute-Garonne, France. The original painting was created during the Magdalenian period, about 12,000 to 17,000 years ago.

Steppe bison drawing

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Carole Fritz and Gilles Tosello)

A reproduction of a steppe bison (Bison priscus) cave painting that is made with charcoal. The painting was made during the Aurignacian period, about 28,000 to 40,000 years ago, in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave in Ardèche, France.

Bison masterpiece

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Carole Fritz)

A drawing of a steppe bison (Bison priscus) that was made with black charcoal that dates from the Aurignacian period, located at the Chauvet-Pont d'Arc cave in Ardèche, France.

Charcoal painting

bison hybrid cave paintings

(Image credit: Carole Fritz)

Another drawing of a steppe bison that ancient people made with charcoal from the Chauvet-Pont d'Arc Cave in France.