World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000002494
Reproduction Date:

Title: Aurochs  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Cattle, Unicorn, List of extinct animals of Europe, Flag of Moldova, Moldavia
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Temporal range: 2.6–0.5 Ma
Early Pleistocene – Early Holocene
Mounted skeleton in National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen

Extinct  (1627)  (IUCN 3.1)[1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Bovinae
Genus: Bos
Species: B. primigenius
Binomial name
Bos primigenius
(Bojanus, 1827)

Bos primigenius primigenius
  (Bojanus, 1827)
Bos primigenius namadicus
  (Falconer, 1859)
Bos primigenius africanus
  (Thomas, 1881)

Map, after Cis Van Vuure's Retracing the Aurochs: History, Morphology & Ecology of an Extinct Wild Ox

Bos taurus,
Bos indicus,
Bos urus

The aurochs ( or ; pl. aurochs, or rarely aurochsen, aurochses), also urus, ure (Bos primigenius), is a grand extinct wild ox that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa. It is the ancestor of domestic cattle. The species survived in Europe until the last recorded aurochs died in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland in 1627.

During the Neolithic Revolution, which occurred during the early Holocene, there were at least two aurochs domestication events: one related to the Indian subspecies, leading to zebu cattle; the other one related to the Eurasian subspecies, leading to taurine cattle. Other species of wild bovines were also domesticated, namely the wild water buffalo, gaur, and banteng. In modern cattle, numerous breeds share characteristics of the aurochs, such as a dark colour in the bulls with a light eel stripe along the back (the cows being lighter), or a typical aurochs-like horn shape.[2]


Illustration from Sigismund von Herberstein's book published in 1556 captioned : "I am 'urus', tur in Polish, aurox in German (dunces call me bison) lit. (the) ignorant (ones) had given me the name (of) Bison"; Latin original: Urus sum, polonis Tur, germanis Aurox: ignari Bisontis nomen dederant

The aurochs was variously classified as Bos primigenius, Bos taurus, or, in old sources, Bos urus. However, in 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature "conserved the usage of 17 specific names based on wild species, which are pre-dated by or contemporary with those based on domestic forms",[3] confirming Bos primigenius for the aurochs. Taxonomists who consider domesticated cattle a subspecies of the wild aurochs should use B. primigenius taurus; those who consider domesticated cattle to be a separate species may use the name B. taurus, which the Commission has kept available for that purpose.


The words aurochs, urus, and wisent have all been used synonymously in English.[4][5] However, the extinct aurochs/urus is a completely separate species from the still-extant wisent, also known as European bison. The two were often confused, and some 16th-century illustrations of aurochs and wisents have hybrid features.[6] The word urus (; plural uri)[7][8] is a Latin word, but was borrowed into Latin from Germanic (cf. Old English/Old High German ūr, Old Norse úr).[7] In German, OHG ūr was compounded with ohso "ox", giving ūrohso, which became early modern Aurochs. The modern form is Auerochse.[9]

The word aurochs was borrowed from early modern German, replacing archaic urochs, also from an earlier form of German. The word is invariable in number in English, though sometimes back-formed singular auroch and innovated plural aurochses occur.[10] The use in English of the plural form aurochsen is nonstandard, but mentioned in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.[11] It is directly parallel to the German plural Ochsen (singular Ochse) and recreates by analogy the same distinction as English ox (singular) and oxen (plural).


Aurochs bull at the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen from 7400 BC
Life restoration of an aurochs bull found in Braunschweig, Germany
Speculative life restoration of the enigmatic Indian aurochs (B. p. namadicus)

During the Pliocene, the colder climate caused an extension of open grassland, which led to the evolution of large grazers, such as wild bovines.[9] Bos acutifrons is an extinct species of cattle that has been suggested as an ancestor for the aurochs.[9]

The oldest aurochs remains have been dated to about 2 million years ago, in India. The Indian subspecies was the first to appear.[9] During the Pleistocene, the species migrated west into the Middle East (western Asia) as well as to the east. They reached Europe about 270,000 years ago.[9] The South Asian domestic cattle, or zebu, descended from Indian aurochs at the edge of the Thar Desert; the zebu is resistant to drought. Domestic yak, gayal and Javan cattle do not descend from aurochs.

The first complete mitochondrial genome (16,338 base pairs) DNA sequence analysis of "Bos primigenius" from an archaeologically verified and exceptionally well preserved aurochs bone sample was published in 2010.[12]

Three wild subspecies of aurochs are recognized. Only the Eurasian subspecies survived until recent times.

  • The Eurasian aurochs (Bos primigenius primigenius) once ranged across the steppes and taigas of Europe, Siberia, and Central Asia. It is noted as part of the Pleistocene megafauna, and declined in numbers along with other megafauna species by the end of Pleistocene. The Eurasian aurochs were domesticated into modern taurine cattle breeds around the 6th millennium BC in the Middle East, and possibly also at about the same time in the Far East. Aurochs were still widespread in Europe during the time of the Roman Empire, when they were widely popular as a battle beast in Roman arenas. Excessive hunting began and continued until the species was nearly extinct. By the 13th century, aurochs existed only in small numbers in Eastern Europe, and the hunting of aurochs became a privilege of nobles, and later royal households. The aurochs were not saved from extinction, and the last recorded live aurochs, a female, died in 1627 in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland from natural causes. Aurochs were found to have lived on the island of Sicily, having migrated via a land bridge from Italy. After the disappearance of the land bridge, Sicilian aurochs evolved to be 20% smaller than their mainland relatives (Island dwarfism).[9]
  • The Indian aurochs (Bos primigenius namadicus) once inhabited India. It was the first subspecies of the aurochs to appear, at 2 million years ago, and from about 9,000 years ago (BP), it was domesticated as the zebu cattle.[13] Fossil remains indicate there were wild Indian aurochs besides domesticated zebu cattle in Gujarat and the Ganges area until about 4,000-5,000 years ago. Remains from wild aurochs, 4,400 years old, are clearly identified from Karnataka in south India.[14]
  • The North African aurochs (Bos primigenius africanus) once lived in the woodland and shrubland of North Africa.[1] It descended from Aurochs populations migrating from the Middle East. The North African aurochs was morphologically very similar to the Eurasian subspecies, so that this taxon may exist only in a biogeographic sense.[9] However, there is evidence that it was genetically distinct from the Eurasian subspecies.[15] Depictions indicate that North African aurochs may have had a light saddle marking on its back.[16] This subspecies may have been extinct prior to the Middle Ages.[9]


Holocene aurochs bull skull in Berlin

The appearance of the aurochs has been reconstructed from skeletal material, historical descriptions and contemporaneous depictions, such as cave paintings, engravings or Sigismund von Herberstein’s illustration. The work by Charles Hamilton Smith is a copy of a painting owned by a merchant in Augsburg, which may date to the 16th century. Scholars have proposed that Smith's illustration was based on a cattle/aurochs hybrid, or an aurochs-like breed.[17] The aurochs was depicted in prehistoric cave paintings and described in Julius Caesar's The Gallic War, Book 6, Ch. 28.[18]


The aurochs was one of the largest herbivores in postglacial Europe, comparable to the wisent, the European bison. The size of an aurochs appears to have varied by region: in Europe, northern populations were bigger on average than those from the south. For example, during the Holocene, aurochs from Denmark and Germany had an average height at the shoulders of 155–180 cm (61–71 in) in bulls and 135–155 cm (53–61 in) in cows, while aurochs populations in Hungary had bulls reaching 155–160 cm (61–63 in).[19] The body mass of aurochs appears to have shown some variability. Some individuals were comparable in weight to the wisent and the banteng, reaching around 700 kg (1,500 lb), whereas those from the late-middle Pleistocene are estimated to have weighed up to 1,500 kg (3,300 lb), as much as the largest gaur (the largest extant bovid).[9] The sexual dimorphism between bull and cow was strongly expressed, with the cows being significantly shorter than bulls on average.

Restoration of the aurochs based on a bull skeleton from Lund and a cow skeleton from Cambridge, with chart of characteristic external features of the aurochs


Because of the massive horns, the frontal bones of aurochs were elongated and broad. The horns of the aurochs were characteristic in size, curvature and orientation. They were curved in three directions: upwards and outwards at the base, then swinging forwards and inwards, then inwards and upwards. Aurochs horns could reach 80 cm (31 in) in length and between 10 and 20 cm (3.9 and 7.9 in) in diameter.[16] The horns of bulls were larger, with the curvature more strongly expressed than in cows. The horns grew from the skull at a 60° angle to the muzzle, facing forwards.[9]

Body shape

The proportions and body shape of the aurochs were strikingly different from many modern cattle breeds.[9] For example, the legs were considerably longer and more slender, resulting in a shoulder height that nearly equalled the trunk length. The skull, carrying the large horns, was substantially larger and more elongated than in most cattle breeds. As in other wild bovines, the body shape of the aurochs was athletic and, especially in bulls, showed a strongly expressed neck and shoulder musculature. Therefore, the forehand was larger than the rear, similar to the Wisent but unlike many domestic cattle.[9] Even in carrying cows, the udder was small and hardly visible from the side; this feature is equal to that of other wild bovines.[9]

Aurochs in a cave painting in Lascaux, France

Coat colour

The coat colour of the aurochs can be reconstructed by using historical and contemporary depictions. In his letter to Conrad Gesner (1602), Anton Schneeberger describes the aurochs, a description that agrees with cave paintings in Lascaux and Chauvet. Calves were born a chestnut colour. Young bulls changed their coat colour at a few months' old to a very deep brown or black, with a white eel stripe running down the spine. Cows retained the reddish-brown colour. Both sexes had a light-coloured muzzle.[9] Some North African engravings show aurochs with a light-coloured "saddle" on the back,[16] but otherwise there is no evidence of variation in coat colour throughout its range. A passage from Mucante (1596), describing the “wild ox” as gray, but is ambiguous and may refer to the wisent. Egyptian grave paintings show cattle with a reddish-brown coat colour in both sexes, with a light saddle, but the horn shape of these suggest that they may depict domestic cattle.[9] Remains of aurochs hair were not known until the early 1980s.[20]

Colour of forelocks

Some primitive cattle breeds display similar coat colours to the aurochs, including the black colour in bulls with a light eel stripe, a pale mouth, and similar sexual dimorphism in colour. A feature often attributed to the aurochs is blond forehead hairs. Historical descriptions tell that the aurochs had long and curly forehead hair, but none mentions a certain colour for it. Cis van Vuure (2005) says that, although the colour is present in a variety of primitive cattle breeds, it is probably a discolouration that appeared after domestication. The gene responsible for this feature has not yet been identified.[9] Zebu breeds show lightly coloured inner sides of the legs and belly, caused by the so-called Zebu-tipping gene. It has not been tested if this gene is present in remains of the wild form of the zebu, the Indian aurochs.[9]

Ecology and behaviour

A painting by Heinrich Harder showing an aurochs fighting off a Eurasian Wolf pack

Like many bovids, aurochs formed herds for at least one part of the year. These probably did not number much more than thirty. If aurochs had similar social behaviour as their descendents, social status was gained through displays and fights, in which cows engaged as well as bulls.[16] Indeed, it was reported that aurochs bulls often had severe fights.[9] As in other wild cattle, ungulates that form unisexual herds, there was considerable sexual dimorphism. Ungulates that form herds containing animals of both sexes, such as horses, have more weakly developed sexual dimorphism.[21]

During the mating season, which probably took place during the late summer or early autumn,[9] the bulls had severe fights, and evidence from the forest of Jaktorów shows these could lead to death. In autumn, aurochs fed up for the winter and got fatter and shinier than during the rest of the year, according to Schneeberger.[9] Calves were born in spring. According to Schneeberger the mother stayed at the calf's side until it was strong enough to join and keep up with the herd on the feeding grounds.[9]

Calves were vulnerable to wolves and to an extent, bears, while healthy adult aurochs probably did not have to fear these predators.[9] In prehistoric Europe, North Africa and Asia, big cats, like lions and tigers, and hyenas were additional predators that probably preyed on aurochs.[9]

Historical descriptions, like Caesar’s De Bello Gallico or Schneeberger, tell that aurochs were swift and fast, and could be very aggressive. According to Schneeberger, aurochs were not concerned when a man approached. But, teased or hunted, an aurochs could get very aggressive and dangerous, and throw the teasing person into the air, as he described in a 1602 letter to Gesner.[9]


Floodplain forests like this one in Germany were the aurochs' last refuge during its final centuries of existence.

There is no consensus concerning the habitat of the aurochs. While some authors think that the habitat selection of the aurochs was comparable to the African forest buffalo, others describe the species as inhabiting open grassland and helping maintain open areas by grazing, together with other large herbivores.[22][23] With its hypsodont jaw, the aurochs was probably a grazer and had a food selection very similar to domestic cattle.[9] It was not a browser like many deer species, nor a semi-intermediary feeder like the wisent.[9] Comparisons of the isotope levels of Mesolithic aurochs and domestic cattle bones showed that aurochs probably inhabited wetter areas than domestic cattle.[24] Schneeberger describes that, during winter, the aurochs ate twigs and acorns in addition to grasses.

After the beginning of the Common Era, the habitat of aurochs became more fragmented because of the steadily growing human population. During the last centuries of its existence, the aurochs was limited to remote regions, such as floodplain forests or marshes, where there were no competing domestic herbivores and less hunting pressure.

Relationship with humans


This very large specimen is from around 7500 BC and is one of two very well-preserved aurochs skeletons found in Denmark. The Vig-aurochs can be seen at The National Museum of Denmark. The circles indicate where the animal was wounded by arrows.

The aurochs, which ranged throughout much of Eurasia and Northern Africa during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, is the wild ancestor of modern cattle. Archaeological evidence shows that domestication occurred independently in the Near East and the Indian subcontinent between 10,000–8,000 years ago, giving rise to the two major domestic taxa observed today: humpless Bos taurus (taurine) and humped Bos indicus (zebu), respectively. This is confirmed by genetic analyses of matrilineal mitochondrial DNA sequences, which reveal a marked differentiation between modern Bos taurus and Bos indicus haplotypes, demonstrating their derivation from two geographically and genetically divergent wild populations.[12] It is possible that there was a third domestication event from another form of the Aurochs in Africa. The Sanga cattle, a zebu-like cattle with no back hump, is commonly believed to originate from crosses between humped-zebus with taurine cattle breeds. However, there is archaeological evidence that these cattle were domesticated independently in Africa and that bloodlines of taurine and zebu cattle were introduced only within the last few hundreds years.[25]

Domestication of the aurochs began in the southern Caucasus and northern Mesopotamia from about the 6th millennium BC. Genetic evidence suggests that aurochs were independently domesticated in India and possibly also in northern Africa.[26] Domesticated cattle and aurochs are so different in size that they have been regarded as separate species; however, large ancient cattle and aurochs "are difficult to classify because morphological traits have overlapping distributions in cattle and aurochs and diagnostic features are identified only in horn and some cranial elements."[9][27]

A Mitochondrial DNA study suggests that all domesticated taurine cattle originated from about 80 wild female aurochs in the Near East.[28][29]

Charles Hamilton Smith's copy of a painting possibly dating back to the 16th century

Comparison of aurochs bones with those of modern cattle has provided many insights about the aurochs. Remains of the beast, from specimens believed to have weighed more than a ton, have been found in Mesolithic sites around Goldcliff, Wales.[30] Though aurochs became extinct in Britain during the Bronze age, analysis of bones from aurochs that lived at about the same time as domesticated cattle showed no genetic contribution to modern breeds. As a result of this study, modern European cattle were thought to have descended directly from the Near East domestication. Another study found distinct similarities between modern breeds and Italian aurochs specimens, which suggested that the previously tested British aurochs were not a good model of the diversity of aurochs genetics. It also suggests possible North African and European aurochs contributions to domestic breeds.[27][31][32] Further genetic tests have shown that domestic cattle in Europe are of Near Eastern origin. This indicates that the European aurochs was not domesticated, nor did it interbreed with the imported Near Eastern cattle.[33][34]

Indian cattle (zebu), although domesticated eight to ten thousand years ago, are related to aurochs that diverged from the Near Eastern ones some 200,000 years ago. African cattle are thought to have descended from aurochs more closely related to the Near Eastern ones. The Near East and African aurochs groups are thought to have split some 25,000 years ago, probably 15,000 years before domestication. The "Turano-Mongolian" type of cattle now found in Northern China, Mongolia, Korea and Japan may represent a fourth domestication event (and a third event among Bos taurus–type aurochs). This group may have diverged from the Near East group some 35,000 years ago. Whether these separate genetic populations would have equated to separate subspecies is unclear.[35]

The maximum range of the aurochs was from Europe (excluding Ireland and northern Scandinavia), to northern Africa, the Middle East, India and Central Asia.[36][37] Until at least 3,000 years ago, the aurochs was also found in Eastern China, where it is recorded at the Dingjiabao Reservoir in Yangyuan County. Most remains in China are known from the area east of 105° E, but the species has also been reported from the eastern margin of the Tibetan plateau, close to the Heihe River.[38]


The ornamented horn of the last aurochs bull that belonged to King Sigismund III of Poland
The inscription reads: "The Aurochs - Bos primigenius bojanus, the ancestor of domestic cattle, lived in this forest Jaktorów until the year 1627."

Already in the times of Herodotus (5th century BC) Aurochs had disappeared from southern Greece but remained common in the area north and east of Echedorus river close to modern Thessaloniki.[39] Last reports of the species in the southern tip of the Balkans date to the 1st century BC when Varro reports that fierce wild oxen live in Dardania (southern Serbia) and Thrace.[40] By the 13th century AD, the aurochs' range was restricted to Poland, Lithuania, Moldavia, Transylvania and East Prussia. The right to hunt large animals on any land was restricted first to nobles and then, gradually, to only the royal households. As the population of aurochs declined, hunting ceased, and the royal court used gamekeepers to provide open fields for grazing for the aurochs. The gamekeepers were exempted from local taxes in exchange for their service. Poaching aurochs was punishable by death.

According to the royal survey in 1564, the gamekeepers knew of 38 animals. The last recorded live aurochs, a female, died in 1627 in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland, from natural causes. The causes of extinction were unrestricted hunting, a narrowing of habitat due to the development of farming, and diseases transmitted by domestic cattle.[9][41]

Cattle resembling the aurochs

While all the wild subspecies are extinct, Bos primigenius lives on in domesticated cattle and attempts are being made to breed similar types suitable for filling the extinct subspecies' role in the wild.

Less-derived cattle breeds

Because some cattle breeds have been changed more than other breeds, certain breeds (all belonging to the so-called landraces) bear a greater resemblance to the aurochs. These breeds are not very productive from the economical point of view, as they do not give as much milk or meat as others. Most of the ″primitive″ phenotypes are facing extinction, because farmers give them up for economic reasons or crossbreed them with more productive dairy and meat cattle. Very hardy and robust, the primitive breeds are sometimes used in nature conservation programs, where they can fill the place of their wild ancestor in the ecology. Primitive breeds include, for example: Caldela, Limia Cattle, Maremmana primitivo, Maronesa, Pajuna Cattle, Rhodopian Shorthorn,[42] Sayaguesa Cattle, Spanish Fighting Bull, and Tudanca Cattle.

Breeding of aurochs-like cattle

The idea of breeding back the aurochs was first proposed in the 19th century by Felix Pawel Jarocki.[9] In the 1920s a first attempt was undertaken by the Heck brothers in Germany with the aim of breeding an effigy (a look-alike) of the aurochs. Starting in the 1990s, grazing and rewilding projects brought new impetus to the idea and new breeding-back efforts came underway, this time with the aim of recreating an animal not only with the looks but also with the behaviour and the ecological impact of the aurochs, in order to be able to fill the ecological role of the aurochs.

Heck cattle: the first attempt to breed a look-alike from modern cattle from the 1920s

Heck cattle

In the 1920s, two German zoo directors (in Berlin and Munich), the brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck, began a selective breeding program to breed back the aurochs into existence from the descendant domestic cattle. Their plan was based on the concept that a species is not extinct as long as all its genes are still present in a living population.[43] The result is the breed called Heck cattle. It resembles what is known about the appearance of the aurochs in colour and, in some cases, also horn shape.[9]

Taurus Project

Taurus bull, an advanced form of the Heck cattle

The ABU (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz), a conservation group in Germany, started to crossbreed Heck cattle with southern-European primitive breeds in 1996, with the goal to increase the aurochs-likeness of certain Heck cattle herds. These crossbreeds are called Taurus cattle. It is aimed to bring in aurochs-like features that are supposedly missing in Heck cattle, using Sayaguesa Cattle, Chianina and, to a lesser extent, Spanish Fighting Cattle (Lidia). The same is done in the Hungarian national park Hortobágy National Park, additionally using Hungarian Grey cattle and Watusi, in Lille Vildmose National Park in Denmark, using only Chianina and Sayaguesa so far,[44] and in Latvia.[45]

Tauros Programme

First generation cross bull from TaurOs Project

The Dutch-based Tauros Programme,[46] (initially TaurOs Project) is trying to DNA-sequence breeds of primitive cattle to find gene sequences that match those found in ″ancient DNA″ from aurochs samples. The modern cattle would be selectively bred to try to produce the aurochs-type genes in a single animal.[47] Starting around 2007, Tauros programme selected a number of primitive breeds mainly from Iberia and Italy, such as Sayaguesa Cattle, Maremmana primitivo, Pajuna Cattle, Limia Cattle, Maronesa, Tudanca Cattle and others, which already bear considerable resemblance to the aurochs in certain features. Numerous crossbreed calves have been born already.[48]

Uruz Project

The newest of the back-breeding efforts, the Uruz Project, was started in 2013 by the initiator of the Tauros Project and the [49] It differs from the other projects in that it will use a limited set of cattle breeds with known aurochs characteristics, it will adhere to a strict crossbreeding strategy following the rules of Mendelian inheritance, and when needed the project will make use of genome editing. By doing this the project hopes to reduce the amount of generations needed and reduce the amount of unwanted recessive genes and throwbacks.[50] Its preliminary plans called for the use of Sayaguesa, Maremmana primitivo or Hungarian steppe cattle, Chianina and Watusi.[51] A first breeding herd so far consisting of three Chianina cows and a Watusi bull was started at Kloster Lorsch in Germany in December 2013,[52][53] another herd using Barrosã is being set up in northern Portugal.[54]

Other projects

Scientists of the Polish Foundation for Recreating the Aurochs (PFOT) in Poland hope to use DNA from bones in museums to recreate the aurochs. They plan to return this animal to the forests of Poland. The project has gained the support of the Polish Ministry of the Environment. They plan research on ancient preserved DNA. Other research projects have extracted ″ancient″ DNA over the past twenty years and their results have been published in such periodicals as Nature and PNAS. Polish scientists Ryszard Słomski and Jacek A. Modliński believe that modern genetics and biotechnology make it possible to recreate an animal almost identical to the aurochs. They say this research will lead to examining the causes of the extinction of the aurochs, and help prevent a similar occurrence with domestic cattle.[55]

In culture

Cro-Magnon Graffito of Bos Primigenius in Grotta del Romito, Papasidero, Italy
Replica of Chauvet cave art depicting aurochs, Woolly rhino, and wild horses

The aurochs was an important game animal appearing in both Paleolithic European and Mesopotamian cave paintings, such as those found at Lascaux and Livernon in France. Aurochs existed into the Iron Age in Anatolia and the Near East, where it was worshiped as a sacred animal, the Lunar Bull, associated with the Great Goddess and later with Mithras. In 2012, an archaeological mission of the British Museum, led by Lebanese archaeologist Claude Doumet Serhal, discovered at the site of the old American school in Sidon, Lebanon, the remains of wild animal bones, including those of an aurochs, dating from the late fourth-early third millennium.[56] A 1999 archaeological dig in Peterborough, England, uncovered the skull of an aurochs. The front part of the skull had been removed but the horns remained attached. The supposition is that the killing of the aurochs in this instance was a sacrificial act.

Mural from Çatalhöyük excavated by James Mellaart showing neolithic hunters attacking an aurochs (Bos primigenius).
An aurochs bull used in heraldry: Coat of arms of Mecklenburg region, Germany

Also during antiquity, the aurochs was regarded as an animal of cultural value. Aurochs are depicted on the Ishtar Gate. Greeks and Paeonians were hunting Aurochs (Wild Oxen/Bulls) and used their huge horns as trophies, cups for wine and offers to the gods and heroes. For example, as mentioned by Samus, Philippus of Thessalonica and Antipater when Philip V of Macedon killed an Aurochs on the foothills of mountain Orvilos he offered the horns which were 105 cm long and the skin to a temple of Hercules.[39][57] Aurochs horns were often used by Romans as hunting horns. Aurochs were among those wild animals caught for fights (venationes) in arenas. Julius Caesar wrote about aurochs in Gallic War Chapter 6.28:

"...those animals which are called uri. These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied. These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them. The young men harden themselves with this exercise, and practice themselves in this sort of hunting, and those who have slain the greatest number of them, having produced the horns in public, to serve as evidence, receive great praise. But not even when taken very young can they be rendered familiar to men and tamed. The size, shape, and appearance of their horns differ much from the horns of our oxen. These they anxiously seek after, and bind at the tips with silver, and use as cups at their most sumptuous entertainments."

The Hebrew Bible contains numerous references to the untameable strength of re'em,[58] translated as "bullock" or "wild-ox" in Jewish translations and translated rather poorly in the King James Version as "unicorn" but recognized from the last century by Hebrew scholars as the aurochs.[59][60]

When the aurochs became rarer, hunting it became a privilege of the nobility and a sign of a high social status. In the Nibelungenlied, the killing of aurochs by Siegfried is described: "Darnach schlug er schiere einen Wisent und einen Elch, starker Ure viere und einen grimmen Schelch",[16] meaning "After that, he defeated one wisent and one elk, four aurochs and one Schelch" - the background of the "Schelch" is dubious. Aurochs horns were commonly used as drinking horns by the nobility, which led to the fact that many aurochs horn sheaths are preserved today (albeit often discoloured). The drinking horn at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, given to the college on its foundation in 1352, probably by the college's founders, the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary, is thought to come from an aurochs.[61] Furthermore, there is a painting by Willem Kalf depicting an aurochs horn. The horns of the last aurochs bulls, which died in 1620, were ornamented with gold and are located at the Livrustkammaren in Stockholm today.

Schneeberger writes that aurochs were hunted with arrows, nets and hunting dogs. With immobilized aurochs, a ritual was practised that might be regarded as cruel nowadays: the curly hair on the forehead was cut from the skull of the living animal. Belts were made out of this hair and were believed to increase the fertility of women. When the aurochs was slaughtered, a cross-like bone was extracted from the heart. This bone, which is also present in domestic cattle, contributed to the mystique of the animal and magical powers have been attributed to it.[9]

16th-century illustration by Teodoro Ghisi, believed to show an aurochs. However, the horns and muzzle differ from those of an aurochs

In eastern Europe, where the aurochs survived until nearly 400 years ago, the aurochs has left traces in fixed expressions. In Russia, a drunken person behaving badly was described as "behaving like an aurochs", whereas in Poland, big strong people were characterized as being "a bloke like an aurochs".[62]

In Central Europe the aurochs features in toponyms and heraldic coats of arms. For example, the names Ursenbach and Aurach am Hongar are derived from the aurochs. An aurochs head, the traditional arms of the German region Mecklenburg, figures in the coat of arms of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The aurochs (Romanian bour, from Latin būbalus) was also the symbol of Moldavia; nowadays they can be found in the coat of arms of both Romania and Moldova. In modern-day Romania, there are villages named Boureni. The horn of the aurochs is a charge of the coat of arms of Tauragė, Lithuania, (the name itself of Tauragė is a compound of taũras "auroch" and ragas "horn"). It is also present in the emblem of Kaunas, Lithuania, and was part of the emblem of Bukovina during its time as an Austro-Hungarian Kronland. The Swiss Canton of Uri is named after the aurochs; its yellow flag shows a black aurochs head. East Slavic surnames Turenin, Turishchev, Turov, Turovsky originate from the Slavic name of the species tur.[63] In Slovakia there are toponyms like Turany, Turíčky, Turie, Turie Pole, Turík, Turová (villages), Turiec (river and region), Turská dolina (valley) and others. Turopolje, a large lowland floodplain south of the Sava river in Croatia, got its name from the once-abundant aurochs (Croatian: tur). The ancient name of the Estonian town of Rakvere, Tarwanpe or Tarvanpea, probably derives from Auroch's head (Tarvan pea) in ancient Estonian.

In 2002, a 3.5-m-high and 7.1-m-long statue of an aurochs was erected in Rakvere, Estonia for the town's 700th birthday. The sculpture, made by artist Tauno Kangro, has become a symbol of the town.[64]

Aurochs are frequently mentioned in the George R. R. Martin, in which roasted aurochs are sometimes served at banquets.

In the 2012 movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, the six-year-old main character imagines aurochs, though the fantasy creatures are portrayed by "costumed" Vietnamese Pot-Bellied piglets.

See also


This article incorporates Creative Commons license CC BY-2.5 text from reference.[12]

  1. ^ a b Tikhonov, A. (2008). Bos primigenius. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 5 January 2008.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ AHD4, s.vv. "aurochs", "urus", "wisent".
  5. ^ MWU, s.vv. "aurochs", "urus", "wisent".
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b AHD4, headword "urus".
  8. ^ MWU, s.v. "urus".
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae
  10. ^ MWU, headword "aurochs".
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c
  13. ^
  14. ^ Shanyuan Chen, Bang-Zhong Lin, Mumtaz Baig, Bikash Mitra, Ricardo J. Lopes, António M. Santos, David A. Magee, Marisa Azevedo, Pedro Tarroso, Shinji Sasazaki, Stephane Ostrowski, Osman Mahgoub, Tapas K. Chaudhuri, Ya-ping Zhang, Vânia Costa, Luis J. Royo, Félix Goyache, Gordon Luikart, Nicole Boivin, Dorian Q. Fuller, Hideyuki Mannen, Daniel G. Bradley, and Albano Beja-Pereira. "Zebu Cattle Are an Exclusive Legacy of the South Asia Neolithic", Mol Biol Evol (2010) 27(1): 1-6 first published online September 21, 2009
  15. ^ Beja-Pereira et al.: The origin of European cattle: Evidence from modern and ancient DNA, 2006.
  16. ^ a b c d e
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Bunzel-Drüke, Finck, Kämmer, Luick, Reisinger, Riecken, Riedl, Scharf & Zimball: "Wilde Weiden: Praxisleitfaden für Ganzjahresbeweidung in Naturschutz und Landschaftsentwicklung
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ a b
  28. ^ Molecular Biology and Evolution, March 14, 2012.
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ CJ Edwards, R Bollongino, A Scheu…, "Mitochondrial analysis shows a Neolithic Near Eastern origin for domestic cattle and no evidence of domestication of European aurochs". Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B, 2007
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ a b "Ηρόδοτος" 5th century BC: Πολύμνια.
  40. ^ Kitchell, K.F. 2013: Animals in the Ancient Word from A to Z.
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^ True Nature Foundation (14 December 2013): ″Uruz Project, our international project to breed back the Aurochs, has kicked off with the arrival of three primitive type cows of the Chianina breed ...″ Facebook. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  53. ^ True Nature Foundation (28 February 2014): ″An update from the Uruz breeding site in Germany. The Watussi bull arrived ...″ Facebook. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  54. ^ True Nature Foundation (15 December 2013): ″The True Nature Foundation has come to an agreement with the municipality of Salto in northern Portugal ...″ Facebook. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^ Douglas, N. 1927: Birds and Beasts of the Greek Anthology. Florence.
  58. ^ (Strong's # 07214) in the Bible (Numbers 23:22 and 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17, Job 39:9–10, Psalms 22:21, 29:6, 92:10 and Isaiah 34:7)
  59. ^ The identification was first made by Johann Ulrich Duerst, Die Rinder von Babylonian, Assyrien und Ägypten(Berlin, 1899:7-8), and was generally accepted, as by Salo Jonas, "Cattle Raising in Palestine" Agricultural History 26.3 (July 1952), pp. 93-104
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^

Further reading

  • Heptner, V. G. ; Nasimovich, A. A. ; Bannikov, A. G. ; Hoffman, R. S. (1988) Mammals of the Soviet Union, Volume I, Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation
  • Cis van Vuure: Retracing the Aurochs - History, Morphology and Ecology of an extinct wild Ox. 2005, ISBN 954-642-235-5


  • American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition (AHD4). Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Headwords aurochs, urus, wisent.
  • Bunzel-Drüke, M. 2001. Ecological substitutes for Wild Horse (Equus ferus Boddaert, 1785 = E. przewalslii Poljakov, 1881) and Aurochs (Bos primigenius Bojanus, 1827). Natur- und Kulturlandschaft, Höxter/Jena, 4, 10 p. AFKP. Online pdf (298 kB)
  • C. Julius Caesar. Caesar's Gallic War. Book 6, Ch. 28 Translator. W. A. McDevitte. Translator. W. S. Bohn. 1st Edition. New York. Harper & Brothers. 1869. Harper's New Classical Library.
  • International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 2003. Opinion 2027 (Case 3010). Usage of 17 specific names based on wild species which are pre-dated by or contemporary with those based on domestic animals (Lepidoptera, Osteichthyes, Mammalia): conserved. Bull.Zool.Nomencl., 60:81–84.
  • Merriam-Webster Unabridged (MWU). (Online subscription-based reference service of Merriam-Webster, based on Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002.) Headword aurochs. Accessed 2007-06-02.
  • Shaffer, Jim G. (1995). Cultural tradition and Palaeoethnicity in South Asian Archaeology. In: Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia. Ed. George Erdosy. ISBN 81-215-0790-1
  • Shaffer, Jim G. (1999). Migration, Philology and South Asian Archaeology. In: Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia. Ed. Bronkhorst and Deshpande. ISBN 1-888789-04-2.
  • Vuure, T. van. 2002. History, morphology and ecology of the Aurochs (Bos primigenius). Lutra 45-1. Online pdf (603 kB)
  • Vuure, C. van. 2005. Retracing the Aurochs: History, Morphology and Ecology of an Extinct Wild Ox. Pensoft Publishers. Sofia-Moscow.
  • Wilson, Don E. and DeeAnn M. Reeder: Mammals.

External links

  • )Bos primigenius primigeniusThe Extinction Website - Aurochs (
  • History of aurochs in Poland
  • Breeding Back the Aurochs 2005, web-paper by student Magdalena Michalak at Bryn Mawr College, near Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
  • The Aurochs is coming back to European forests and grasslands
  • The Comeback of the European Icon. Rewilding Europe News, 8 November 2012.
  • Uruz Project.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.