The field of ancient DNA was launched in 1984 when Allan Wilson and his team at the University of California, Berkeley, retrieved two short sequences of mitochondrial DNA from a 140-year-old museum skin specimen from a quagga (Equus quagga). The quagga, a South African horse relative that became extinct late in the 19th century, was known by a unique pattern of stripes on the front part of its body. DNA analysis showed that quaggas were more closely related to zebras than to horses. From a technological standpoint, this analysis demonstrated that traces of DNA could be obtained from museum specimens.
Did you know? The name “quagga,” used by the Khoikhoi people, referred to any type of zebra found on the African Plains and was probably an attempt to imitate the animal’s call: “kwa-ha-ha.”