After unearthing and examining several equine skeletons in the late 1980s from a stable in the buried village of Pompeii, Italy, researchers believed that they had discovered a new, albeit now extinct, breed of horse. Testing performed roughly 10 years later revealed genetic material for what they thought was an exotic hybrid animal that contained two types of DNA: that of a horse and a mutated form of DNA. However a recent discovery by a British researcher turns this theory upside down.

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79 with little warning, the Italian village of Pompeii and many of its inhabitants were buried under 30 feet of volcanic ash, essentially freezing the settlement in time. Pompeii was rediscovered in 1599, and further excavation of the town began in the mid-1700s and has continued for centuries.

When archaeologists began excavating the stable of a house called Casti Amanti in 1987, they found several equine skeletons. It was not until 2004, when a group of Italian scientists examined DNA from the skeletons, that researchers began to think they'd made a startling discovery.

"It was the results of these genetic experiments … which led the researchers to believe that one of the equids found in the stable belonged to an extinct breed of horse," says Susan Gurney, MSc, a course director at the University of Cambridge's Institute of Continuing Education.

"Tests were performed on the mtDNA of the skeletons–mtDNA is inherited from mother to the offspring," Gurney continues. "The results showed that the second part of the mtDNA sequence was that of a horse. This suggested to the researchers t