Horse entombed 2000 years ago was a palomino, genetic testing shows

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A palomino mare and her foal in Surrey, England. Photo: (a friend of) Kvetina-Marie via Flickr.com CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
A palomino mare and her foal in Surrey, England. Photo: (a friend of) Kvetina-Marie via Flickr.com CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Genetic testing on the entombed remains of five horses in China dating back 2000 years reveal that one of them was a palomino.

Researchers with the Chinese Academy of Social Science’s institute of archaeology conducted the analysis on horse remains found in a nomad tomb complex in the northwestern Gobi Desert.

The tomb, in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, dates to the Western Han Dynasty, which ran from 202 BC to 8 AD.

“The color of the horse’s body was golden, or palomino, while its mane and tail were nearly white,” lead researcher Zhao Xin told the state-run Xinhua news agency.

“Though it’s not the first archaeological discovery of a golden horse, such geno-variation is very, very rare,” she said.

The palomino was buried in the same vault in the tomb complex as its owner.

The complex was unearthed in 2006 and 2007 in a joint excavation involving the Xinjiang cultural relics department and Northwestern University.

The site has yielded a large quantity of human and animal remains, along with pottery and vessels made of bronze, gold, silver and stone.

Burials across the entire tomb complex have been found to date from 400 BC to 120 BC, all of them related to the nomad community that roamed the area.

The five horses were all sacrificed, for three human burials. Three of the horses were found in one tomb. Only the palomino horse had shared the burial chamber with its owner. The other horses occupied separate animal vaults.

Zhao believed its conspicuous and unique appearance, with its golden coat and white mane, had made it precious.

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