Kungas were created in ancient Mesopotamia by breeding domestic donkeys with Syrian wild asses
Donkey-donkey hybrids pulled Mesopotamian battle chariots more than half a millennium before horses were bred for the same task, a new scientific report has revealed.
Research published in Science Advances on Friday claims the ancient ‘kungas’ used in Mesopotamia – and shown pulling carts in third millennium BC artwork – were hybrids created by breeding female domestic donkeys and Syrian wild asses males.
After sequencing the genomes of a 4,500-year-old kunga found buried in Syria, researchers found that equines were “hybrids between female domestic donkeys and male hemippes” and that they are the “Early Evidence of Breeding Hybrid Animals.”
Eva-Maria Geigl, one of the study’s co-authors, told Live Science that researchers could tell from the skeletons that kunga “did not correspond to the measurements of the donkeys” and “did not correspond to the measurements of the Syrian wild asses.”
“They were somehow different, but the difference wasn’t clear,” she said.
Geigl explained that since the kungas were sterile, each had to be specially “bio-engineering” capturing wild donkeys and mating them with domestic donkeys.
“They were the first hybrids ever, as far as we know, and they had to do it every time for every kunga produced – so that explains why they were so valuable,” Geigl said.
Horses are believed to have been domesticated around 3000 BC, about 500 years after kunga herding began.
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