The aurochs (Bos primigenius) (/ˈɔːrɒks/ or /ˈaʊrɒks/) is an extinct cattle species, considered to be the wild ancestor of modern domestic cattle. With a shoulder height of up to 180 cm (71 in) in bulls and 155 cm (61 in) in cows, it was one of the largest herbivores in the Holocene; it had massive elongated and broad horns that reached 80 cm (31 in) in length.
The aurochs was part of the Pleistocene megafauna. It probably evolved in Asia and migrated west and north during warm interglacial periods. The oldest known aurochs fossils found in India and North Africa date to the Middle Pleistocene and in Europe to the Holstein interglacial. As indicated by fossil remains in Northern Europe, it reached Denmark and southern Sweden during the Holocene. The aurochs declined during the late Holocene due to habitat loss and hunting, and became extinct when the last individual died in 1627 in Jaktorów forest in Poland.
The aurochs is depicted in Paleolithic cave paintings, Neolithic petroglyphs, Ancient Egyptian reliefs and Bronze Age figurines. It symbolised power, sexual potency and prowess in religions of the ancient Near East. Its horns were used in votive offerings, as trophies and drinking horns.
Two aurochs domestication events occurred during the Neolithic Revolution. One gave rise to the domestic cattle (Bos taurus) in the Fertile Crescent in the Near East that was introduced to Europe via the Balkans and the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Hybridisation between aurochs and early domestic cattle occurred during the early Holocene. Domestication of the Indian aurochs led to the zebu cattle (Bos indicus) that hybridised with early taurine cattle in the Near East about 4,000 years ago. Some modern cattle breeds exhibit features reminiscent of the aurochs, such as the dark colour and light eel stripe along the back of bulls, the lighter colour of cows, or an aurochs-like horn shape.
The use of the plural form aurochsen in English is a direct parallel of the German plural Ochsen and recreates the same distinction by analogy as English singular ox and plural oxen. \"Aurochs\" is both the singular and the plural term used to refer to the animal.
The scientific name Bos taurus was introduced by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 for feral cattle in Poland.The scientific name Bos primigenius was proposed for the aurochs by Ludwig Heinrich Bojanus in 1827 who described the skeletal differences between the aurochs and domestic cattle.The name Bos namadicus was used by Hugh Falconer in 1859 for cattle fossils found in Nerbudda deposits.Bos primigenius mauritanicus was coined by Philippe Thomas in 1881 who described fossils found in deposits near Oued Seguen west of Constantine, Algeria.
Calibrations using fossils of 16 Bovidae species indicate that the Bovini tribe evolved about 11.7 million years ago. The Bos and Bison genetic lineages are estimated to have genetically diverged from the Bovini about 2.5 to 1.65 million years ago.The following cladogram shows the phylogenetic relationships of the aurochs based on analysis of nuclear and mitochondrial genomes in the Bovini tribe:
The cold Pliocene climate caused an extension of open grassland, which supported the evolution of large grazers. Bos acutifrons is a possible ancestor of the aurochs, of which a fossil skull was excavated in the Sivalik Hills in India that dates to the Early Pleistocene about 2 million years ago. Fossils of the Indian aurochs were excavated in alluvial deposits in South India dating to the Middle Pleistocene. It possibly migrated west into the Middle East during the Pleistocene. An aurochs skull excavated in Tunisia's Kef Governorate from early Middle Pleistocene strata dating about 0.78 million years ago is the oldest known fossil specimen to date, indicating that the genus Bos might have evolved in Africa and migrated to Eurasia during the Middle Pleistocene. Middle Pleistocene aurochs fossils were also excavated in a Saharan erg in the Hoggar Mountains.
The earliest aurochs fossils excavated in Europe date to the Holstein interglacial 230,000 years Before Present (BP).A mitochondrial DNA analysis showed that hybridisation between the aurochs and the steppe bison (Bison priscus) occurred about 120,000 years ago; the European bison (Bison bonasus) contains up to 10% aurochs ancestry.
According to a 16th century description by Sigismund von Herberstein, the aurochs was pitch-black with a grey streak along the back; his wood carving made in 1556 was based on a culled aurochs, which he had received in Mazovia. In 1827, Charles Hamilton Smith published an image of an aurochs that was based on an oil painting that he had purchased from a merchant in Augsburg, which is thought to have been made in the early 16th century. This painting is thought to have shown an aurochs, although some authors suggested it may have shown a hybrid between an aurochs and domestic cattle, or a Polish steer. Contemporary reconstructions of the aurochs are based on skeletons and the information derived from contemporaneous artistic depictions and historic descriptions of the animal.
Remains of aurochs hair were not known until the early 1980s. Depictions show that the North African aurochs may have had a light saddle marking on its back. Calves were probably born with a chestnut colour, and young bulls changed to black with a white eel stripe running down the spine, while cows retained a reddish-brown colour. Both sexes had a light-coloured muzzle, but evidence for variation in coat colour does not exist. 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 domesticated cattle. Many primitive cattle breeds, particularly those from Southern Europe, 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. According to historical descriptions of the aurochs, it had long and curly forehead hair, but none mentions a certain colour. Although the colour is present in a variety of primitive cattle breeds, it is probably a discolouration that appeared after domestication.
The proportions and body shape of the aurochs were strikingly different from many modern cattle breeds. 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 fore hand was larger than the rear, similar to the wisent, but unlike many domesticated cattle. Even in carrying cows, the udder was small and hardly visible from the side; this feature is equal to that of other wild bovines.
The body mass of aurochs appears to have shown some variability. Some individuals reached around 700 kg (1,540 lb), whereas those from the late Middle Pleistocene are estimated to have weighed up to 1,500 kg (3,310 lb). The aurochs exhibited considerable sexual dimorphism in the size of males and females.
The horns were massive, reaching 80 cm (31 in) in length and between 10 and 20 cm (3.9 and 7.9 in) in diameter. Its horns grew from the skull at a 60 angle to the muzzle facing forwards and were curved in three directions, namely upwards and outwards at the base, then swinging forwards and inwards, then inwards and upwards. The curvature of bull horns was more strongly expressed than horns of cows. The basal circumference of horn cores reached 44.5 cm (17.5 in) in the largest Chinese specimen and 48 cm (19 in) in a French specimen. Some cattle breeds still show horn shapes similar to that of the aurochs, such as the Spanish fighting bull, and occasionally also individuals of derived breeds.
A well-preserved aurochs bone yielded sufficient mitochondrial DNA for a sequence analysis, which showed that its genome consists of 16,338 base pairs. Further studies using the aurochs whole genome sequence have identified candidate microRNA-regulated domestication genes.
Fossil horns attributed to the aurochs were found in Late Pleistocene deposits at an elevation of 3,400 m (11,200 ft) on the eastern margin of the Tibetan plateau close to the Heihe River in Zoigê County that date to about 26,620600 years BP. Most fossils in China were found in plains below 1,000 m (3,300 ft) in Heilongjiang, Yushu, Jilin, northeastern Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, near Beijing, Yangyuan County in Hebei province, Datong and Dingcun in Shanxi province, Huan County in Gansu and in Guizhou provinces. Ancient DNA in aurochs fossils found in Northeast China indicate that the aurochs survived in the region until at least 5,000 years BP. Fossils were also excavated on the Korean Peninsula, and in the Japanese archipelago.
Landscapes in Europe probably consisted of dense forests throughout much of the last few thousand years. The aurochs is likely to have used riparian forests and wetlands along lakes. Pollen of mostly small shrubs found in fossiliferous sediments with aurochs remains in China indicate that it preferred temperate grassy plains or grasslands bordering woodlands. It may have also lived in open grasslands. In the warm Atlantic period of the Holocene, it was restricted to remaining open country and forest margins, where competition with livestock and humans gradually increased leading to a successive decline of the aurochs.
The African aurochs may have survived until at least to the Roman period, as indicated by fossils found in Buto and Faiyum in the Nile Delta. It was still widespread in Europe during the time of the Roman Empire, when it was widely popular as a battle beast in Roman amphitheatres. Excessive hunting began and continued until it was nearly extinct. By the 13th century, the aurochs existed only in small numbers in Eastern Europe, and hunting it became a privilege of nobles and later royals.Fossils found in West Bengal indicate that the Indian aurochs may have survived until the early 12th century. 59ce067264