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Skeleton of an aurochs in the National Museum in Copenhagen

Skeleton of an aurochs in the National Museum in Copenhagen

without rank: Forehead weapon bearer (Pecora)
Family : Horned Bearers (Bovidae)
Subfamily : Bovinae
Tribe : Cattle (bovini)
Genre : Real cattle ( Bos )
Type : Aurochs
Scientific name
Bos primigenius
Bojanus , 1827
Live reconstruction of an aurochs bull found in Braunschweig

The aurochs or Ur ( Bos primigenius ) is a species of cattle that has been exterminated in its wild form . According to recent genetic research, Middle Eastern populations are considered to be the ancestral form of the taurine domestic cattle , which is a domesticated form of the Eurasian aurochs. The Indian zebu is descended from the Indian subspecies of the Ursus, which some authors also have in its own species, Bos namadicus . Probably the last specimen of the previously widespread wild form of cattle died in 1627.

Relatives of this wild cattle are Gaur , Banteng and the probably exterminated Kouprey .


The name of the u- rune ( ) in older Futhark is Ur. The Latinized form, urus , replaced the Latin bubalus ("ox") as the name for the aurochs. The current name of the aurochs in Spanish and Portuguese, uro and tur in Polish, is derived from it. In the course of the diphthongization in the 13th century, German forms such as Uwer, Euwir or Auer were formed from Ur. The latter designation prevailed, then “-ochs” for “wild cattle” was added. The German name of the animal also goes back to those in other languages, such as aurochs (English), oerrund (Dutch) and urokse (Danish).

The scientific name of the aurochs is often found as Bos taurus , the name originally given by Carl von Linné for domestic cattle. Since both are now counted as one species, according to the priority rule of the ICZN, the older name should actually be valid. However, the ICZN decided in 2003 that in this special case the name of the wild form Bos primigenius should be the valid name. As a result, both the aurochs and the domestic cattle domesticated from it are listed in a species called Bos primigenius .


Head study of an aurochs bull based on a Swedish find

The appearance of the aurochs can be reconstructed using bone finds, historical descriptions and contemporary representations such as cave paintings or those in the works of Siegmund von Herberstein or Conrad Gessner . The "Augsburger Ur" is also often used as a source. This illustration by Charles Hamilton Smith is from the 19th century but is based on a contemporary oil painting.

CH Smith's reproduction of the Augsburg illustration of the aurochs
Features of bull (top and bottom left) and cow (bottom right). Reconstruction based on a bull skeleton from Lund and a cow skeleton from Cambridge.


The aurochs was one of the largest herbivores in post-glacial Europe, comparable only to the bison ; the size of the aurochs seems to have differed from region to region. Aurochs bulls from northern Europe in the Holocene had a shoulder height of around 155-180 cm and auroch cows had a shoulder height of 135 to 155 cm (Denmark, northern Germany) or 170 to 185 centimeters for bulls and around 165 for cows (Poland) , while those in Hungary were apparently slightly smaller at around 155–160 cm in bulls. Bulls with a shoulder height of two meters can only be assigned to the Pleistocene . After the last glacial period , a certain loss of body size can be observed, presumably due to the loss of many natural enemies of the aurochs, habitat fragmentation due to the spreading civilization and hunting, i.e. largely anthropogenic causes. The body mass of the aurochs was probably comparable to that of the bison and banteng and was between 700 kg and 1000 kg. It can be said of the Indian aurochs that it was generally smaller, but equipped with proportionally larger horns than those in Europe. The sexual dimorphism of the aurochs with regard to body size was, as in some other aspects, clearly pronounced, since the cows were often a few decimeters smaller than the bulls.

cattle bull: horns and color are similar to the aurochs, but not the proportions and body size
The Spanish fighting cattle are attested to be close to the aurochs in terms of proportions and horn shape
Limia cattle from TaurOs Project in the Netherlands : proportions and colors correspond to the aurochs, but body size and horns do not
Aurochs horns in the Servaas Basilica , the Netherlands


Due to the clearly pronounced horns of the aurochs, this species had a long and broad frontal bone . The horns were characteristic of the Ur in terms of curvature and size. They were curved inward, with the dark colored tips pointing upwards and inwards. The bulls had larger and more curved horns, which could probably reach an average of 80 to 100 centimeters in length and between 10 and 20 centimeters in diameter. The longest known bony horn cones of an aurochs measure 112–115 cm, in living animals a horny layer would have to be added. The angle between the horns and the skull averaged between 50 ° and 70 °, so they were clearly directed forward. The horn shape was an advantage in the commentary fights of the Ure, which did not, as in the case of the bison or musk ox , consisted of the skull colliding, but probably of mutual powerful pushing and pushing with mutual horn contact, as domestic cattle still practice today. To protect the eyes during these commentary fights, the bony eye sockets were more pronounced in primeval bulls than in many of today's domestic cattle bulls.


The stature of the aurochs differs in some respects from that of many modern cattle breeds. The legs are comparatively long and slender, which results in a shoulder height that roughly corresponds to the length of the trunk. The skull, with its imposing horns, was also much larger and longer than that of many domestic cattle. Only a few southern European primitive races like Sayaguesa still have these characteristics. The body structure of the aurochs was, as with other wild cattle, athletic and, especially with bulls, strongly developed neck and shoulder muscles, which were supported by high vertebral processes . This produced a "shoulder hump", as can still be seen in the Spanish fighting cattle . This is not to be confused with the muscular flap of the zebus. Even in suckling cows, the udder was small, hairy, and barely visible from the side; this feature also corresponds to that of other wild cattle.

Coat color

The coat color of the Ure can be guessed from contemporary depictions and historical reports. In his letters to Conrad Gessner (1602), Anton Schneeberger provides one of the most precise descriptions of the aurochs, which corresponds to the coloration of the animals depicted as cave paintings in Lascaux and Chauvet . The calves were born hazel and young bulls turned a very dark to black color within a few months. The cows, on the other hand, kept the red-brown color of the calves. The bulls also formed an "approximately two fingers wide" (Schneeberger) light eel line along the spine. There is no explicit reference to eel streaks in cows. Typical for the aurochs was also the white-rimmed muzzle , which can also be observed in some Bantengs. There is no evidence that aurochs populations inside or outside Europe showed a different basic coloration. Only a few North African stone engravings show Ure with a light saddle, which was possibly a specific characteristic of the North African subspecies. A text written in Latin by Mucante in 1596 also describes the color of the aurochs. His description was translated as “gray” at one point, but in the same text there is also written “black ox”. Mucante's text is not unproblematic, because in places it actually refers to the bison. Egyptian tomb paintings showing reddish brown cattle (both cows and calves and bulls) with light saddles are sometimes used as a reference for such coloring in the North African subspecies, but the painted horn shape suggests that the animals depicted are domestic cattle acts.

Many primitive cattle breeds still show characteristics of the urs' coat color, such as the black coloring of the bulls with a light eel line, the white-rimmed muzzle and sometimes the typical gender dimorphism. One attribute that is often attributed to the aurochs is light colored forehead curls. Historical reports show that the aurochs had distinctly curly hair on their foreheads, which is also found in many domestic cattle bulls, but no particular color is ever described for them. Therefore van Vuure (2005) describes the light color of the forehead curls as a discoloration that occurred after domestication. However, he notes that Gauren also has a lighter color in this area. A gene that is responsible for its expression is not yet known. Zebuine breeds have what is known as the zebu tipping gene, which causes light inside legs and flanks. Whether this gene was present in their wild form, the Indian Ur, was not tested.

Habitat, ecology and behavior

Alder forest near Saarmund . Quarry forests like this one provided a refuge for the aurochs during the last centuries of its existence.

There is disagreement about the preferred habitat of the Ursus. While some consider the aurochs, similar to the forest buffalo, to inhabit the forests (including Cis van Vuure 2002 and 2005), others describe the aurochs as an inhabitant of open grasslands, which, together with other large herbivores, ensured the natural preservation of these areas.

With its hypsodontic teeth, the aurochs are geared towards grazing and probably had a very similar food selection to today's domestic cattle, so it was not a eater like red deer or roe deer or a semi-intermediate eater like the bison. Comparisons of isotope levels in the bone material of Neolithic aurochs and domestic cattle suggest that Ure preferred more marshy terrain than their domesticated offspring. The report by Anton Schneeberger in Gesner (1602) shows that, in addition to grasses , leaves and acorns also represented an important additional part of the diet of the aurochs during winter.

When in post-Christian times the habitat for the aurochs became smaller and more fragmented as a result of the steady increase in human population and the wild cattle had already been exterminated in parts of its range, swamps , quarries and alluvial forests functioned as refuges for the primitive. There they were spared both from the conversion of their habitat into grazing grounds for livestock and from the pressure of hunting due to the difficult accessibility. That is why, for example, in old Anglo-Saxon songs of the aurochs as Morstapa , "swamp inhabitants", the talk.

Like many other hornbearers , aurochs also formed herds for at least part of the year. These probably numbered no more than 30 animals and consisted mainly of cows with their calves and young bulls. Older bulls likely lived alone or formed their own small herds of bulls. The ranking was based on the assumption that the social behavior of the Urs corresponded to that of domestic cattle and other wild cattle, through gestures of expression and also fierce fights, which can also take place between cows. As with other ungulate species , which form separate sex herds, a clear sexual dimorphism is noticeable. The fact that the bulls lived largely alone outside of the rutting season made selection pressure possible for the largest possible males, since they had more food available on a pasture than in a herd. In the case of ungulates that form same-sex herds, such as horses , however, there is hardly any sexual dimorphism to be found.

During the rutting season, which for the aurochs was probably in late summer or early autumn, the bulls fought hard. It is known from the Jaktorów forest that males could also be killed. During the autumn the aurochs ate a layer of fat for the winter and therefore appeared a bit thicker than during the rest of the year. In the spring the cows calved, for which they withdrew into the forest. The mother animal stayed there, guarding and defending the calf until it became strong enough to be taken out onto the pasture. The calves were vulnerable to attacks by wolves (see Schneeberger in Gesner, 1602).

Healthy adult urchins were probably less likely to be threatened by this predator. In prehistoric Europe as well as North Africa and Asia, big cats such as lions and in Asia tigers , but also hyenas, were additional natural enemies.

Historical sources, such as Caesar ( De Bello Gallico ) or Schneeberger, show that the aurochs were fast and agile and could display very aggressive behavior. According to Schneeberger, aurochs hardly noticed an approaching person and showed little reaction even when they screamed loudly. But if you were tempted or chased a Ur, it could become very aggressive and dangerous, would take the harassing person by the horns and throw them into the air, as Anton Schneeberger wrote in his letter to Conrad Gessner in 1602. In principle, however, the aurochs must not have been an aggressive animal per se towards humans, otherwise it would hardly have been suitable for domestication.

Original distribution and geographical variation

Original distribution area of ​​the aurochs (divided into the three main forms)
Speculative reconstruction of the life of an Indian aurochs ( B. p. Namadicus )

The original range of the aurochs included large parts of temperate and subtropical Eurasia, the aurochs also occurred in parts of India and North Africa , where different subspecies lived. The Indian form of the aurochs ( Bos primigenius namadicus ), which occurred in the late Pleistocene on the subcontinent and probably became the forerunner of the zebu cattle , is or was led by some as a separate species, Bos namadicus or Bos indicus . The Indian aurochs survived until the Neolithic Age , where it was domesticated in the north of the Indian subcontinent, presumably 8,000 years ago. Fossil finds from Gujarat and the Ganges region indicate that wild aurochs were found here alongside domesticated zebu cattle as recently as 5000 to 4000 years ago. In southern India, the wild Indian aurochs has been reliably identified until at least 4400 years ago. The North African subspecies B. p. africanus ( junior synonym mauretanicus ) is anatomically very similar to the Eurasian and, according to Cis van Vuure, may have a purely geographical basis. Although there was no geographical barrier between North Africa and the Middle East, North African and Eurasian aurochs may have differed genetically. From the late Pleistocene to at least 3000 years ago, the aurochs also occurred in East Asia, where it is found in the Chinese Yangyuan ( Hebei province ).

As a rule, a distinction is made between three subspecies, all of which are extinct in the wild:

  • European aurochs ( Bos primigenius primigenius )
  • Indian aurochs ( Bos primigenius namadicus )
  • African aurochs ( Bos primigenius africanus = mauretanicus )

However, this division is based on traditional concepts. Analyzes of prehistoric DNA give a more complex picture. For example, aurochs that once lived in Italy differed significantly from the aurochs in Northern and Central Europe , according to analyzes of mitochondrial DNA . In contrast, they appear to share various mitochondrial sequences with the aurochs of the Middle East, which are considered the most important ancestral form of European domestic cattle. According to these findings, Central Europe was not colonized by aurochs from Italy after the end of the last glacial period , but by aurochs from another glacial refuge. Aurochs, which have survived the cold periods on the Iberian Peninsula , may come into consideration here . However, most of the aurochs of the Iberian Peninsula examined so far have the same mitochondrial DNA haplotype as Italian aurochs or European domestic cattle. Only one approximately 4000 year old specimen from northern Spain, which was first mistaken for a domestic cattle morphologically, has the haplotype of the northern European aurochs.

Development, Domestication and Extinction

Prehistoric cave drawing of an aurochs in Lascaux
Picture from the book Siegmund von Herberstein (edition 1556) with the Latin signature Urus sum, polonis Tur, Germanis Aurox: ignari Bisontis nomen dederant (I am the Ur, Polish Tur, German the Aurochs, ignoramuses call me bison)

As a result of the cooling of the global climate in the Pliocene , grasslands began to expand further, favoring the development of hypsodontic herbivores, including the genus Bos . When and where exactly it developed is controversial. Bos , especially Bos primigenius , show a modified skull structure and clearly differ from other cattle genera such as bison , leptobos or bubalus . Bos acutifrons has been suggested as the precursor species of the aurochs.

The oldest aurochs finds come from Wadi Sarrat in Tunisia in North Africa and date to the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene, so they are likely to be around 700,000 years old. Similar old finds are documented from Asbole on the Awash in Ethiopia . The aurochs appeared a little later in Europe, and one of the oldest records is that of Notarchirico in southern Italy with an age of around 600,000 years. In Central Europe, the aurochs probably did not appear before the Holstein warm period . One of the oldest finds is a skull from an archaeological excavation site in the Schöningen opencast mine , the age of which is around 300,000 years. At his side are leftovers from Steinheim an der Murr , which should be around the same time. During the cold periods, the aurochs, a less cold-tolerant species from South Asia, retreated to the south of Europe. The aurochs belonged to the Palaeoloxodon antiquus fauna complex, which also includes other more heat-bound species such as the European forest elephant , fallow deer and roe deer , hippopotamus , European water buffalo and wood rhinoceros . During the cold ages, these species were replaced by more cold-tolerant counterparts from the north, such as woolly mammoth , woolly rhinoceros , steppe bison and others. After a large number of not only European large animals became extinct or exterminated in the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene, the aurochs, together with bison and wild horses, became one of the most important European large ungulates and can therefore be found frequently in Holocene bony beds.

The domestication of the aurochs began around 9,000 years ago . There were at least two domestication events. The earlier concerned the Indian aurochs Bos primigenius namadicus , which produced the zebuine domestic cattle breeds. The second began about 8,000 years ago and concerned the Eurasian aurochs, Bos primigenius primigenius ; it gave rise to the taurine domestic cattle breeds. This domestication took place in what is now the Middle East such as Syria , Iraq and Pakistan . This is evident from the analyzes of mitochondrial DNA. These domestic cattle, the domesticated Middle Eastern aurochs, go back to around 80 wild cows and were introduced into Europe during the course of the Neolithic era . The domestication of cattle was obviously spatially restricted. This model is supported by sequence analyzes of the mitochondrial DNA of domestic cattle, which differs from that of the aurochs in Northern and Central Europe. However, Italian aurochs had similar haplotypes as European domestic cattle. This is explained by the fact that Italy may have been a refuge for aurochs during the last glacial period, but the rest of Europe was repopulated by a genetically different primal population. Therefore, a certain participation of female Italian aurochs in the European domestic cattle genome cannot be ruled out. In addition, there are indications that, in exceptional cases, females of the northern European aurochs have entered the genome of European domestic cattle. While female introgression from aurochs was probably rare, the mitochondrial genome in no way rules out contributions from wild animals. Older studies suggested that such contributions were made frequently in Northern Europe, which is now considered obsolete.

Zebuine domestic cattle, here dwarf zebus , are domesticated Indian aurochs
Taurine domestic cattle are domesticated Eurasian aurochs

The zebu or the Indian aurochs is tried by some authors as a separate species, Bos indicus or Bos namadicus . The lines of the zebus and the taurine domestic cattle, i.e. from B. p. namadicus and B. p. primigenius separated already about 300,000 years ago, but they can be crossed with each other without restriction, which, in addition to the phenotypic similarity of the Indian wild form with the Eurasian, speaks against a separation at the species level.

The aurochs were the first wild cattle to be domesticated. As a result, Banteng, Gaur, Yak and the wild Asian water buffalo became pets. The motivation for domestication of these animals is to always have them available for meat, milk or cultic rituals, because hunting is risky and success is never guaranteed. In the course of domestication, cattle made more docile could also be used as pack animals and work animals. Domestic animals were likely a gradual development, and domestic cattle from millennia ago probably looked very much like their wild ancestors. The first noticeable physical changes were reduced height and stunted horns. Breeding to a higher-yielding phenotype also shortened the legs and skull of many domestic cattle and created a long, toned trunk that often lost its curved back line. Only a few, less productive cattle breeds from the Mediterranean region still correspond to their wild ancestors in these physical aspects. Examples of this are breeds that are either used for draft work, such as Sayaguesa , Maronesa or Pajuna , or for bullfights, such as the Spanish fighting cattle.

Monument to the last aurochs in Jaktorów, Poland

While the Indian aurochs disappeared from the fossil record in the early Holocene, the Eurasian and North African subspecies persisted into historical times. Basically, it can be observed that the aurochs, as an outspoken refuge from culture, first disappeared where the population density was particularly high. This is due to the fact that habitat fragmentation caused by the introduction of grazing cattle and the construction of towns and settlements as well as hunting put a strain on large animals. Since Europe was historically the most densely populated continent, the megafauna today is correspondingly impoverished, at least from the wild. The population growth of humans caused the population and distribution of the Ure to shrink steadily. In North Africa and the Middle East, the aurochs probably disappeared in the course of antiquity . Wild cattle lived longer in Europe and the Caucasus, but with the increasing human population it became increasingly rare, especially in post-Christian times. But Caesar already wrote that aurochs and other large animals only occur in the large wilderness area of ​​the Hercynian forest . The last Bavarian aurochs was shot in the Neuburg Forest around 1470 . The last bastions of the Urs were in the less densely populated Eastern Europe, especially in East Prussia , Poland and Lithuania . After the aurochs had been exterminated in Central Europe, the so-called Great Wilderness in East Prussia and Poland was the last refuge for the remaining large European ungulates, elk , wild horse, bison and aurochs. This European jungle also became over time Reduced by the steadily advancing population, today the Rominter Heide and the Białowieża Primeval Forest , with still existing elk and re-introduced bison, represent the last remnants of the formerly large European wilderness area. Ure have disappeared from it for centuries.

In the late 16th century, the last ones in were forest of Jaktorów , 55 kilometers southwest of Warsaw , placed under the protection of the sovereign and cherished. Otto Antonius evaluated the existing protocols. According to this, there were eight old and three young bulls as well as 22 cows and five calves in 1564. In 1599 there were still 24 copies available, but in 1602 only four were left. In 1620 there was only one cow left, which died in 1627. This last aurochs cow was not poached, as is often claimed, but probably died of natural causes. Diseases, poaching and, to a certain extent, hunting as well as the increasing loss of habitat due to the encroachment of local farmers into the region, who let their cattle and horses graze on the former pastures of the aurochs, were responsible for the disappearance of this last Ure in Jaktorów. The limited habitat for the Ure meant a lack of food in winter, which resulted in the starvation of some specimens, as well as stress. For example, some cops killed each other in fighting. In addition, particularly aggressive bulls were shot and their meat was delivered to the king. All of this led to the rapid decline of the last aurochs in Jaktorów and ultimately to their extinction.

In addition, there are written indications that Ure was still kept in the Zamoyski zoo after 1600, so that, in addition to the semi-wild aurochs in Jaktorów, a second last population possibly existed for a short time.


One of the aurochs skeletons exhibited in Copenhagen
Holocene bull skull in the Natural History Museum Berlin

In the case of aurochs, a distinction must be made between Pleistocene and Holocene finds. Post-glacial finds of the aurochs are much more common. An interesting find from the Pleistocene was made in Steinheim an der Murr in 1910. It was the skeleton of a female urs who perished in a typical resting position around 250,000 years ago. This skeleton is now in Stuttgart in the Museum am Löwentor.

In 1985, in the Geisel in the former lignite -Tagebau Mücheln in the district Saalekreis found the skeleton of a large Pleistocene bison-bull, which was also associated with early human flint tools and is dated to 200,000 years ago. Today it is exhibited in the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle in an attacking pose.

In Odsherred on the Danish island of Zealand , two aurochs skeletons were found only 3.5 km apart in the 20th century. The one found in 1904 is the 9500 year old "Ur von Vig". The one found in 1983 is the "Ur von Prejlerup". This Ur, shot about 8,500 years ago, in whose complete skeleton six arrowheads were still found, died in a bog. Both skeletons are on display in Copenhagen museums today.

In 1821 an original skeleton was recovered in Haßleben in the Weimar moorland and restored under Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's direction. This aurochs is exhibited today in the Phyletic Museum Jena. Goethe recognized the importance of the find, the skeleton contributed to the scientific separation of aurochs and bison and was determined by Ludwig Heinrich von Bojanus as a holotype of the species Bos primigenius .

Even Charles Darwin is due to the recovery and preparation of a bison skeleton. It is a Holocene cow with a shoulder height of 145 from the Burwell wetlands and is one of the best preserved original skeletons in Great Britain. The find is on display today in the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge .

In 1974 another aurochs skeleton was found in Goldach in the canton of St. Gallen ( Switzerland ). The bones of the Goldacher Urs are in the cellar of the Naturmuseum Sankt Gallen. It is the best-preserved original skeleton in Switzerland, the age of which is estimated to be a controversial 12,000 years. The Goldach aurochs are to be examined in terms of molecular genetics at the Institute for Anthropology at the University of Mainz via the University of Basel.

In 1848 an almost complete skeleton of an aurochs cow was recovered in the Füchtorfer Moor near Sassenberg . In 1986 a nearly complete skeleton of an aurochs bull was found in the same Westphalian municipality. It has a shoulder height of 165 centimeters, but if you ignore the preserved cartilage tissue, the bull should have reached the 170 centimeter mark during his lifetime.

Complete skeletons are naturally preserved in rare cases. Most of the remains of the Ure are individual skeletal elements such as skull fragments or horn cones. The keratinous horny layer is only very rarely preserved in finds recovered from the ground. The skull of a Holocene aurochs of considerable size can be seen in the Natural History Museum Berlin . The average profile length of a primal skull is between 64 and 72 centimeters, but a gigantic skull, which was in the Natural History Museum in London, reached 91.2 centimeters profile length. The paleontological collection in Karlsruhe contains the skull of a bull, the horn cones of which are each over 90 centimeters in length and 40 centimeters in circumference, the greatest distance between which is 92.5 centimeters. It should be noted that such large specimens are found more frequently in Pleistocene sites and that not all primitive populations in Europe had animals of maximum size.

The aurochs in mythology and culture

Horn of the last aurochs bull from Jaktorow, today in the armaments chamber in Stockholm
Still life by Willem Kalf showing an aurochs horn

The aurochs have always been mystified as man's most important game. The oldest cultural references of the Ure in Europe can be found in the cave paintings in Lascaux or Chauvet, for example , where the aurochs are depicted alongside other Ice Age wild animals. The aurochs can also be found again and again on North African wall paintings and stone engravings.

Even in ancient times, the aurochs enjoyed a high status. For example, ancient horns were often used by the Romans as hunting horns. Aurochs were also among those wild animals that were caught in amphitheatres for hunting . Gaius Iulius Caesar reports in De Bello Gallico about the Ures of the Hercynian Forest , which are said to have been a little smaller than elephants . They are extremely aggressive and do not allow themselves to be tamed. The Germans would go to great lengths to catch them in pits and kill them. Young men then presented the horns to the people, which is said to have brought them great honor.

With the increasing rarity of the aurochs, the hunt for wild cattle became a privilege of the nobility and a symbol of high status. In the Nibelungenlied , for example, the killing of Uren by Siegfried is reported. Aurochs horns were often used by the nobility as drinking horns, for which they were usually set in gold and decorated. As a result, a large number of primeval horns have survived today, but most of them are discolored. Furthermore, an aurochs horn can be seen in a painting by Willem Kalf . The horns of the last aurochs bull, which died in 1620, were also set in gold and are now in the armory in Stockholm.

Schneeberger reports that aurochs were hunted with the help of bows and arrows , hunting dogs and nets. A ritual was practiced with captured ura, which from today's point of view may seem cruel: stakes were struck in the ground next to the still living wild cattle so that it could not escape, and the curls and skin of the living aurochs were cut from the skull. From this part of the aurochs fur, belts were made, which, according to the myth , should have had a positive effect on the fertility of women . If the aurochs was slaughtered, the heart was cut out and a cruciform heart bone was exposed . This bone, which domestic cattle also have, contributed to the mystification of wild cattle and magical powers were ascribed to them.

In Eastern Europe, where the aurochs lasted the longest, the animal has also left its mark on phraseology. In Russia, a drunk person who behaves rudely is said to behave "like a primal". And in Poland, too, a very strong person is called “a muscle man like a great”.

The aurochs can still be found in Central European culture, especially in toponyms. The names of places like Ursenbach and Aurach am Hongar are based on the aurochs and the wild cattle can often be found in their emblems. The Swiss canton of Uri is also a reference to the aurochs. The Principality of Moldova used an aurochs head on the flag. The founding legend of the principality says that Prince Dragoș discovered a new area of ​​land on which it was founded while hunting an aurochs.

Since the disappearance of the aurochs from the German-speaking area, the wisent has often been confused with the aurochs and also referred to as "aurochs", which often led to confusion in contemporary reports or representations. Only in Poland, where the wild cattle lasted the longest, the clear linguistic distinction between the tur (aurochs) and the żubr (bison) was not lost. It was not until the 19th century that the German language separated the two species of cattle again with the boom in zoology . Since its renaissance , the aurochs has also been recognized in natural science as an ancestral form of domestic cattle - because during the animal's lifetime, the "wild ox" was viewed either as feral cattle or as hybrid forms with the bison, as found in a letter from Baron Bonar in Gesner (1602) emerges. At that time, bison, banteng or hybrid forms were considered as the ancestral form of domestic cattle.

Image breeding

Heck cattle in the Ludwigshafen-Rheingönheim wildlife park

In an article by the Polish zoologist Feliks Pawel Jarocki from 1835, the idea of ​​creating an animal corresponding to the aurochs was first formulated. It was postulated that domestic cattle exposed to the wild could develop into an animal similar to that of the wild after some time.

Since the taurine and zebuine domestic cattle all descend from the aurochs and belong to one species with this, there are several breeds that have retained a greater or lesser number of wild characteristics. This applies to external characteristics such as primordial proportions, horns or coat colors, as well as the ability to get along year-round without humans in the wild and robustness against many diseases of highly bred breeds.

After the First World War, Heinz and Lutz Heck developed the idea of reuniting the original characteristics of the aurochs, which are distributed among different breeds, through crossbreeding and subsequent selection. For this project, the term "back-breeding" was coined, which is now mostly rejected and replaced by image breeding .

In the 1920s, Heinz Heck started his breeding experiment, for which he used land races such as the Scottish highland cattle, the steppe cattle and the Corsican cattle, but also dairy cattle such as Braunvieh and Murnau-Werdenfelser. The breeding result of the Heck brothers is called Heck cattle and was often propagated as "backbred aurochs". Although similarities were achieved in terms of coat color and horns, Heck cattle are somewhat smaller than the aurochs and differ from them mainly in their shorter legs, a less athletic "barrel-shaped" body, a short, rather small skull and repeatedly occurring deviating ones Fur and horn variants. Consequently, the Heck cattle are no more aurochs-like than other, original domestic cattle breeds.

Since 1996 some breeding sites in Germany, but also in the Hortobágyi National Park, have been crossing Heck cattle with original breeds from southern Europe in order to remedy the shortcomings in terms of size, elegance, leg and snout length and horn shape. These crossbreeds are grouped under the name Taurus cattle and sometimes resemble the aurochs much more closely than common Heck cattle. Among other things, the shoulder height of some bulls has been increased from 140 to around 165 cm. Heck and Taurus cattle are kept for grazing natural areas, extensive agriculture and also in zoos in various European countries.

The TaurOs Project , which has existed since 2009 , also uses southern European primitive breeds such as Sayaguesa, Pajuna , Maremmana, Limia and others, as well as Scottish highland cattle. The founder and crossbreeding animals are already living freely in the Keent ( Netherlands ) and Faia Brava ( Portugal ) nature reserves .

The latest project is the Auer cattle project of the open-air laboratories Lauresham in the Hessian Lorsch . This project is currently limited to five original breeds , Chianina , Maremmana , Sayaguesa , Hungarian steppe cattle and Watussi .

The question of the meaning of breeding a cattle largely similar to the aurochs can therefore not only be answered with ( paleo- ) zoological interest, but also with nature conservation reasons. Modern nature conservation endeavors to resettle as large parts of the original fauna as possible on partial areas and to allow the original dynamics to develop again. For this, the release of the corresponding species is necessary. Big game in particular moved more into the center of interest due to the mega herbivore hypothesis . But some species, such as the wild aurochs, have been completely wiped out. Here, nature conservation must fall back on domestic cattle breeds that can adequately fulfill the role of their wild ancestors. Various robust breeds can be used for this, but an animal that is as similar as possible to the aurochs is the most suitable and most authentic option.

Aurochs-like cattle breeds (selection)

Southern European primitive races: (top row from left to right) Limia, Maremmana primitivo, Maronesa; (bottom row) Podolica, Sayaguesa, Pajuna. Including the aurochs as a comparison.
Cachena cow in Spain

Since some breeds of cattle were changed more than others by domestication, some are still to be found today that are more similar to the aurochs. These are usually not very productive, so they are less suitable as milk and meat suppliers , but more as workhorses. The most original representatives of these primitive races are mostly threatened with extinction , as they cannot compete with high-performance races and are therefore more and more abandoned or crossed with highly bred races. However, since they are very robust and frugal, they play a role in nature conservation as a possible replacement for their wild ancestors. So far, the Heck cattle is a breed that is frequently used in Central Europe , alongside other robust cattle such as the Scottish highland cattle, Galloways or Hungarian steppe cattle . However, the Working Group on Biological Environmental Protection also uses Sayaguesa and Chianina successfully in Germany. Stichting Taurus also uses several primitive races in the Netherlands .


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Web links

Commons : Aurochs  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Aurochs  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations