Scientists Use DNA to Discover Earliest Man-Made Hybrid Animal: Here’s What it Was

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo credit: sanjeri via Getty Images)

Humans have been on Earth for hundreds of thousands of years. It didn’t take long for them to discover that animals could assist with a number of tasks. Early man domesticated wolves to protect them and their homes from other predators. Later, humans began to domesticate farm animals for food, textiles, and more. Eventually, humans learned that they could breed different animals to create new species that carried the traits of their parent species. Now, scientists have discovered the earliest man-made hybrid animal.

According to The Hill, scientists in the Middle East discovered the parentage of an ancient Mesopotamian animal called a kunga. After much research, they’ve concluded that the kunga is the earliest man-made hybrid animal. People in ancient Mesopotamia bred female domesticated donkeys with male Syrian wild asses to make kungas.

They don’t know exactly when the earliest example of this hybrid animal came about. However, through archeological evidence, researchers know that kungas held high status in the region’s society for five hundred years before people started using horses. Evidence puts horses in the area about 4,000 years ago.

Early Mesopotamians used kungas for a variety of things. People used the larger male kungas to pull chariots and war wagons before horses became the norm. At the same time, they used smaller female kungas to pull plows and for other agricultural purposes.

The Earliest Man-Made Hybrid Animals Were Status Symbols

However, these animals weren’t just, for lack of a better term, workhorses. They were also status symbols among early Mesopotamians. Archeologists have discovered evidence that people gave kungas as dowries in royal weddings. Additionally, they came with a hefty price tag. Cuneiform tablets from Syro-Mesopotamia show that kungas cost six times as much as a regular domesticated donkey.

This shows that the earliest man-made hybrid animals were status symbols. After all, a farmer or fighter could buy teams of donkeys for the cost of one kunga.

Cracking the Genetic Code

The kunga isn’t a new discovery. For years, researchers knew that they were the earliest example of a man-made hybrid animal. Additionally, they assumed that kungas came from a cross between a donkey and some other animal. More recently, a team of geneticists, archeologists, and paleontologists came together to study the creature’s parentage.

They found bones of kungas in an elite burial complex in Tell Umm el-Marra in northern Syria. They studied the DNA in those bones to crack the genetic code and reveal the secret ingredient in creating kungas. This new discovery proves that kungas were the result of breeding female donkeys with male wild asses.

Unfortunately, it will be impossible to naturally breed new kungas in the modern age. The Syrian wild ass went extinct in the 1920s. So, like half of its genetic line, the earliest example of man-made hybrid animals are now a thing of the distant past.