DNA analysis of of 50000-year-old European bison (wisent) remains from a cave in France revealed that it originated from a previously unknown hybrid species of wisent which was depicted through Upper Palaeolithic rock art 15000 years ago.
The hybrid species emerged over 120,000 years ago through the hybridisation of the extinct Aurochs, the ancestor of modern cattle, and the Ice Age Steppe Bison. This hybrid species eventually became the ancestor of the modern wisent, as seen present at Białowieża forest on the border of Poland and Belarus. This course of events was discovered by scientists of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.
The experts studied ancient DNA extracted from radiocarbon-dated bones and teeth found in caves across Europe, the Ural and the Caucasus Mountains to trace the genetic history of the populations. What was discovered, was genetically different from the European bison or any other known species. So far the Steppe bison has been considered the only bison species present in Late Ice Age Europe.
The researchers confronted French archaeologists who confirmed that there are two distinct forms of bison art in Ice Age caves, and it turned out their ages match those of the different species. The cave paintings depict bison with either long horns and large forequarters or with shorter horns and small humps, more similar to modern European bison.
(after PhysOrg & Popular Archaeology)