An unknown hybrid species of cattle and bison has been discovered on cave art by researchers led by the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide. The hybrid called Higgs Bison, originated more than 120,000 years ago and was the product of extinct Aurochs and the Ice Age Steppe Bison.
The cave paintings, dating back 15,000 years ago, show a bison with long horns and big forequarters, which looks like the American Bison. There was also depiction of a bison with short horns and small humps, which looks like the European Bison.
In their study published in the journal Nature Communications, the Higgs Bison roamed the cold grasslands from Europe to Mexico. In time, the hybrid animal became the ancestor of the modern European Bison, which can be found in protected areas in the Białowieża forest between Poland and Belarus.
The name comes from another mysterious subject, Higgs Boson, a subatomic particle. Its existence was only confirmed in 2012.
The species was initially discovered in 2001 by Beth Shapiro of the UCSC during her PhD research with Alan Cooper, ACAD Director and study leader of the new study. It is only 15 years later that details of the hybrid species became clear.
The research team, which also included the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Polish Bison conservation researchers, European and Russian paleontologists, analyzed DNA from the bones and teeth.
“The dated bones revealed that our new species and the Steppe Bison swapped dominance in Europe several times, in concert with major environmental changes caused by climate change,” says the study’s lead author Julien Soubrier of the University of Adelaide. “When we asked, French cave researchers told us that there were indeed two distinct forms of bison art in Ice Age caves, and it turns out their ages match those of the different species. We’d never have guessed the cave artists had helpfully painted pictures of both species for us.”