DNA Sequencing Reveals Mysterious Hybrid Animal


| LAST UPDATE 01/17/2022

By Hayden Katz
hybrid donkey animal kunga
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Contributor via Getty Images

Mesopotamian art and texts have depictions of a mysterious animal that would often pull wagons into war. For years, archeologists have pondered what creature this was, as it seemed to be bizarre. Why? Domestic horses weren't reported to be located in those areas until the Fertile Crescent, 4,000 years ago. Sure enough, after extensive research, DNA sequencing has revealed that this animal was a hybrid - with a donkey for a mom and a Syrian wild donkey for a dad, which has been said to be from around 4,500 years ago. Thus, the horselike animal, kunga was created. Here's how researchers uncovered the mystery.

It has been proven that the kunga once had a significant role as the skeletons of the animal were buried near the bodies of high-status individuals. The remains were found at the upper crust of Bronze Age society at the burial complex of Umm el-Marra in northern Syria. But, the bones weren't enough to figure out what kind of creature it was. That was until DNA analysis occurred and anthropologists discovered the first-ever account of a hybrid animal breeding.

kunga animal donkey hybrid
Stefano Bianchetti / Contributor via Getty Images
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According to the research published in the journal Science Advances, the cross-breeding was done intentionally by the people at the time. Benjamin Arbuckle, an anthropological archaeologist at the University of North Carolina, explained, "Since hybrids are usually sterile, it means there was a remarkable level of energy devoted to constantly capturing and raising wild onagers, breeding them with domestic donkeys, and then training these teams of prestigious kungas (which would only last for one generation)." He added, "It really shows the innovative and experimental nature of ancient people which I think some people only associate with the modern world and also their willingness to invest a lot of resources in the artificial creation of an expensive animal used only by and for elites."

Eva-Maria Geigl, head of research at CNRS at the Université de Paris and author of the study, believed the kunga actually came to be about naturally. Prior to the hybrid animal, it was hard to find a creature that was strong enough to enter the battlefield. Geigl said, "They must have seen that the animal was more robust and more trainable. They must have observed the result of this natural crossing, and then they said OK, we will do that. For the first time in human history, we will bioengineer an animal." 

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