Science News takes us back 4,500 years to ancient Syria, where domesticated donkeys and wild asses called “hemippes” were bred together for war – as the earliest know hybrid:
Horses didn’t appear in this region of Asia until 4,000 years ago, centuries after their domestication in Russia. But dozens of equine skeletons were excavated in the early 2000s from a royal burial complex dating back to 2600 B.C. at Umm el-Marra in northern Syria. The animals, whose physical features didn’t match any known equine species, appear to be “kungas” — horselike animals seen in artwork and referenced in clay tablets predating horses by centuries.
“They were highly valued, very expensive,” says paleogeneticist Eva-Maria Geigl of Institut Jacques Monod in Paris.
Geigl and her colleagues analyzed a kunga’s genome, or genetic instruction book, and compared it with those of horses, donkeys and Asiatic wild asses, including the hemippe (Equus hemionus hemippus), which has been extinct since 1929. The kunga’s mother was a donkey and its father a hemippe, making it the oldest evidence of humans creating hybrid animals. A mule from 1000 B.C. in Anatolia reported by the same research group in 2020 is the next oldest hybrid.
You can read more of Geigl’s research here, in Science Advances.