By analysing bones and teeth from more than 30 horses in Siberia and Europe dating back as far as 35,000 years, researchers found a gene associated with a type of leopard spotting seen in horses.
Until now, there has been much debate among archeologists over whether the artists were painting what they saw or whether they were abstract or symbolic artists.
Professor Terry O’Connor of University of York’s archaeology department says the painting in France raised questions over why the artist had painted spotting on the horses.
“Our research removes the need for any symbolic explanation of the horses,” he said. “People drew what the saw.”
Scientists from Britain, Mexico, the United States, Spain and Russia helped with the genetic testing and analysis of the results.
Researchers say although they are just starting to have the genetic tools to access the appearance of past animals this study will greatly improve the knowledge of the past.