DNA tests uncover rare 2,000 year-old golden horse

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A rare golden colored horse might have galloped across northwestern China’s Gobi Desert 2,000 years ago, an archaeological DNA analysis has suggested.

DNA tests uncover rare 2,000 year-old golden horse
Horse remains from the tomb complex [Credit: CASS]

The discovery comes after archaeologists with the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS) institute of archaeology analyzed the bones of five horses from a nomad tomb complex dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (202BC–8AD) in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

“The color of the horse’s body was golden, or palomino, while its mane and tail were nearly white,” said Zhao Xin, lead researcher of the project.

“Though it’s not the first archaeological discovery of a golden horse, such genovariation is very, very rare,” she said.

The animal was buried in the same vault with its owner and unearthed in a joint excavation by the Xinjiang cultural relics department and Northwestern University from 2006 to 2007.

DNA tests uncover rare 2,000 year-old golden horse
Aerial photo of the vault [Credit: CASS]

Archaeologists also discovered a large quantity of other human and animal remains, along with pottery and vessels made of bronze, gold, silver and stone.

The tomb complex dates back to 400BC–120BC, according to Zhao, and belonged to a nomad community. The five horses were apparently buried as sacrifices for three different people. Three came from the same tomb. Two were chestnut and buried along with a camel in an animal vault. Only the golden one shared the chamber with the owner, said Zhao.

“Obviously, its conspicuous and unique appearance made it precious,” she said.

Horses were first domesticated in central Asia at least 5,000 years ago.

Source: Xinhuanet [December 12, 2015]

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