The Higgs Bison Solves a Few Ancient Mysteries

The ancient animal was the rare hybrid mammal
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 18, 2016 5:43 PM CDT
Updated Oct 19, 2016 1:33 AM CDT
Scientists Discover Rare Hybrid Mammal
It turns out the ancient ancestor of the European bison, seen here, was a rare hybrid mammal.   (Bernd Thissen/dpa via AP,file)

Approximately 120,000 years ago, the now-extinct Ice Age steppe bison got it on with the aurochs, the ancient ancestor of cows, and created a rare hybrid mammal. Then ancient humans drew it. NPR reports research published Tuesday in Nature Communications solves a number of ancient mysteries in one go. The first mystery is the sudden appearance, about 11,000 years ago, of the modern European bison, its evolutionary history a blank. The second mystery is why the European bison appears to have some pieces of DNA related to cows. To get to the bottom of this, researchers studied DNA pulled from ancient bones and teeth, reports. That led them to the discovery of the Higgs bison (that's a science joke, folks).

The Higgs bison was the result of the steppe bison and the aurochs mating. "Finding that a hybridization event led to a completely new species was a real surprise—as this isn't really meant to happen in mammals," the study's leader says in a statement. Further research shows the Higgs bison traded off periods of dominance with the steppe bison throughout the late Ice Age and would become the ancestor of the modern European bison. The Higgs bison also solves a mystery related to cave art, specifically why ancient people appeared to draw two different types of bison when the steppe bison was the only known species of the time. CBC reports drawings of what's thought to be the steppe bison have long horns and big front legs, while drawings of what's thought to be the Higgs bison have humps and shorter horns. (The artist who etched this ancient rock broke all the rules.)

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