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BEIJING (AP) — Taiwan said Saturday that China’s military drills appear to simulate an attack on the self-ruled island, after multiple Chinese warships and aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan’s armed forces issued an alert, dispatched air and naval patrols around the island, and activated land-based missile systems in response to the situation, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said on Twitter.

China launched live-fire military drills following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan earlier this week, saying that her visit violated the “one-China” policy. China sees the island as a breakaway province to be annexed by force if necessary, and considers visits to Taiwan by foreign officials as recognizing its sovereignty.

Separately on Saturday, Taiwan’s army detected four unmanned aerial vehicles flying in the vicinity of the offshore county of Kinmen, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.

The four drones, which Taiwan believed were Chinese, were spotted over waters around the Kinmen island group and the nearby Lieyu Island and Beiding islet, according to Taiwan’s Kinmen Defense Command.

Taiwan’s military fired warning flares in response.

“Our government & military are closely monitoring China’s military exercises & information warfare operations, ready to respond as necessary,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said in a tweet.

“I call on the international community to support democratic Taiwan & halt any escalation of the regional security situation,” she added.

Kinmen, also known as Quemoy, is a group of islands administered by Taiwan. The islands are located roughly 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) east of the Chinese coastal city of Xiamen in Fujian province.

The Chinese military exercises began Thursday and are expected to last until Sunday. So far, the drills have included missile strikes on targets in the seas north and south of the island in an echo of the last major Chinese military drills in 1995 and 1996 aimed at intimidating Taiwan’s leaders and voters.

Taiwan has put its military on alert and staged civil defense drills, while the U.S. has numerous naval assets in the area.

The Biden administration and Pelosi have said the U.S. remains committed to a “one-China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. The administration discouraged but did not prevent Pelosi from visiting.

China has also cut off defense talks with the U.S. and imposed sanctions on Pelosi in retaliation for the visit.

Pelosi has been a long-time advocate of human rights in China. She, along with other lawmakers, visited Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1991 to support democracy two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters at the square.

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A centuries-old horse tooth might be the last piece in the genetic puzzle of Assateague's horses

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A centuries-old horse tooth might be the last piece in the genetic puzzle of Assateagues horses

The unexpected discovery of a 16th-century horse tooth in modern-day Haiti has provided credence for an age-old folk story about the origin of feral horses on an island off Maryland and Virginia.

The famous wild Chincoteague ponies have lived for centuries on Assateague Island, a barrier island on the Atlantic coast, for centuries. But no one is quite sure how they got there. A 1947 children’s book inspired by local legend, “Misty of Chincoteague,” suggests that the ponies are the descendants of Spanish horses who swam to the island after a Spanish ship wrecked off the coast of Virginia, reverting to a feral state over the years.

But research published in PLoS ONE by scientists from the Florida Museum of Natural History on July 22 provides new scientific support for the theory based on the discovery of the oldest known DNA from a domesticated horse in the Americas.

Nicolas Delsol, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History, was researching cow bones from 16th-century archaeological sites in an effort to understand the introduction of domesticated cows to the Americas during Spanish colonization. He conducted DNA sequencing on a “huge collection of archaeological remains” from Puerto Real, an early Spanish town located in modern-day Haiti. The town was established by the Spanish in 1507 but abandoned in 1578.

“One of the bones that I thought was from a cow was misidentified,” Delsol explained in an interview with CNN. “A small fragment of tooth was actually [from] a horse.”

The discovery was “completely unexpected,” said Delsol. “We quickly realized it was maybe the first domestic horse genome that we had from the early colonies of America.”

The genetic analysis “confirms what we could expect from the historical documents, saying that the first horses were boarded on boats from the Iberian peninsula from southern Spain, most likely,” said Delsol. Horses were a crucial part of Spanish society, he said — so important that Spanish colonizers brought them on the grueling and logistically challenging journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

But the genetic analysis of the 16th-century tooth also helped Delsol identify the closest living relative of the early domestic horses: the Chincoteague ponies. The genetic similarity lends credence to the belief that the ponies are descendants of early Spanish horses, says Delsol.

“It might show some veracity behind this legend, that it is rooted in an actual event,” he said.

However, just because the feral ponies are likely descended from Spanish horses doesn’t mean they came from a shipwreck, the researcher noted.

“The Spanish could have left them on the island like they did with some other species, like pigs or cattle, left them to breed to have some local stock,” he explained.

The discovery also provides more evidence for just how far north Spanish colonizers in the Americas reached.

“It shows something that is not widely known but is partially studied, that the Spanish were not only present in the Caribbean region, and in Mexico and in South America, but also exploring their options much farther north on the east coast of the US in the mid-Atlantic region,” said Delsol. “We have some evidence of Spanish presence, Spanish expeditions inland in the Carolinas.”

Going forward, Delsol and his team hope to expand their research on the Puerto Real specimens — and explore how early colonizers depended on horses for cattle ranching in the Americas.

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