Horsing Around

Prezwalski's Horse             Credit:   Joe Ravi CC-BY-SA.3.0

Horses, some of us keep them and ride them while the rest of us admire the animal and just imagine ourselves riding along with the hero in the cowboy movie that we’re watching. Like the dog, the horse has figured strongly in the development of our species since very early days. In the beginning, it was a good food supply. Of course, it still is in some countries, but horse is not a universal delicacy anymore.

In the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Pruvost et al suggest that archeologists “often argue whether Paleolithic works of art” are accurate images of the local livestock (1). The issue has come to a head with the cave drawings in France with pictures of spotted horses.

Today’s spotted horses carry an allele on their DNA, the Lp gene, which is unique to their color rendition and some samples of very old bones have indicated that in some cases, the same allele is present. (1,2). Thus the cave artists would have had spotted models to draw. After they’d dined well of course.

To me it seems strange that there would have been the suggestion that these were cartoon horses. The horses don’t look like modern horses, though. We have been tampering with their breeding for many, many centuries. That is, all except for one race of horses racing about on the Mongolian steppes – Prezwalski’s Horse, have escaped our interference and look very much more like the cave drawings than any of our modern breeds.

The assumption seems to have been that the cave drawings must have had religious significance and therefore wouldn’t be about real life. But perhaps they were drawn for practical purposes such as teaching the young what to hunt along with a Paleolithic lecture course on technique. Or maybe, people just enjoyed creating and looking at art, even then.

I wonder why we must always assume that everything left by the ancients was done for religious purposes. I would much rather think that it was the artists amongst us that played a big part in making us civilized.

  1. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1108982108
  2. http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/249343

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