Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Creature Feature: Aurochs.

Sorry to disappoint any of you, but there will be no particularly awesome videos this entry. No Youtuber has ever captured this animal alive on film.

That's because it's extinct.

If you do not already know what an aurochs is, you will probably be surprised to learn that it is, of all things, a cow. THE first cow.

It kicked ASS.

Aurochs first appeared in the Pleistocene era, covering much of the Eurasian continent. Like much of the Pleistocene megafauna, humans contributed to their extinction. That's right: cows used to be big enough to be considered dangerous megafauna. It makes one wonder who, exactly, had the bright idea to take their milk.

Don't. Even. THINK about it.

The aurochs was domesticated around 6000 B.C. and still widespread enough in Europe to be used in the Roman battle arena. After that, they were over-hunted to extinction - even when hunting later became restricted, it was too little, too late. The last aurochs, a female, died in the forests of Poland of natural causes in 1627.

The aurochs is the origin of all European (taurine) cattle breeds. It is well-recorded in art going all the way back to cave paintings. Possibly because of this close relationship and early domestication, the first character of the Phoenician alphabet was an image of a bull's head.

Why the hell am I talking about a dead animal, then? It's pushing up daisies. It has ceased to be. IT is an EX-bovine!

(Oh, it's just pinin' for the fjords!)

There are a number of parties trying to, in some way, shape or form, resurrect the aurochs. The German Heck brothers attempted to make a breed of cattle phenotypically similar to the aurochs of old, but many say that truly breeding back is an exercise in futility. Poland also has an institute devoted to resurrecting the aurochs, making it the only cool thing they've ever donr.

Heck cattle.

An aurochs-based "Jurassic Park" scenario is another possibility. As of this year (no, seriously, THIS YEAR), scientists have mapped a full mitochondrial sequence from a single aurochs bone.

However, this begs the question: As with Jurassic Park, do we really want to have cattle a little smaller than elephants? Sure, in this case it was our bad, but cattle are already big animals. There would be little point in recreating a nigh-mythical animal except for, well, profit. That is a cash cow.

When I say "nigh-mythical," I mean it. The aurochs, now extinct, has been a religious figure ever since humans started drawing things on cave walls. Its curved horns were seen as a representation of the lunar crescent and a bull's skull resembles the female reproductive tract. (Seriously, check that one out - it's freaky.) The constellation Taurus has always been seen as a bull's head. The Golden Calf mentioned in the Bible probably refers to the many pagan bull idols.

Humans have also been using it in Magic:the Gathering since the dawn of time.

"I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita." - This may be from a novel about pedophilia, but when a cow is put up there alongside angels and art, you know it's special.


  1. you write very well.. didn't appreciate the last paragraph, but otherwise, great entry.
    And what I wouldn't do to see an Auroch in real life! Seriously, I'm despondent about finding out about such a magnificent creature and, for a change, not being separated from it by millions of years! Oh well.
    Maybe I'll start a career devoted to Jurassic-Park-izing them...