The study began almost 15 years ago, when Cooper and his students became interested in studying ancient bison populations in Europe to better understand the impact of climate change on those animals and other megafauna. They extracted DNA from radiocarbon-dated bones and teeth unearthed across Europe as well as in the Urals and Caucasus regions at the border of Europe and Asia. The resulting genetic signature from many of the bison bones was very different from that of the modern European bison or any other known species.
The researchers accumulated more genetic evidence over the years, revealing the hybridization. The dated bones also showed that the Higgs Bison and the Ice Age Steppe bison swapped dominance in Europe several times, coinciding with major environmental changes.
But the scientists still could not put a proverbial face to the Higgs Bison. In order to make visual sense of the genetic results, they investigated cave art. Bison, after all, seemed to be a favorite subject of early artists. Marie Badisa, the French Culture Ministry's curator for Chauvet cave (containing 32,000– to 36,000-year-old cave art) even went so far as to describe such art as "prehistoric cinema," given that it is so dynamic and realistic.