Extinct horse may have survived in Siberia much longer than previously thought

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Tourists at the entrance to Denisova Cave, in Russia. Photo: ЧуваевНиколай CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Tourists at the entrance to Denisova Cave, in Russia. Photo: ЧуваевНиколай CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A species of small horse believed to have died out around 400,000 years ago may have survived in southern Siberia as recently as 24,000 years ago, according to a report.

Remains of the Ovodov horse were unearthed in Russia’s Altai mountains in the Denisova cave system, which bears evidence of habitation of three species of humans, Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Remains of the squat Ovodov horses have been found across several locations in Siberia, and scientists originally believed it died out 400,000 years ago.

Now, analysis of bone fragments recovered from the Denisova system suggest it was alive as recently as 24,000 to 26,000 years ago.

The bones discovered to date suggest it was a stocky horse and perhaps looked much like the Przewalski’s horse. It was larger than a donkey or zebra.

The Siberian Times reports that no cave drawings have been found of the species, which might have provided further clues to its appearance.

The species was first scientifically described in 2009 by Russian archaeologist Nikolai Ovodov.

Dr Ovodov told the Times that he believed the species was once quite common around the Altai caves.

While it is likely that humans hunted the horses, the horses most likely succumbed to climate change in the end.

Evidence of human habitation in the Denisova cave system dates back at least 180,000 years.

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