Wetenschap - 1 januari 1970

Aurochs more like Spanish fighting bull than German Heck cattle

Aurochs more like Spanish fighting bull than German Heck cattle

Aurochs more like Spanish fighting bull than German Heck cattle


After an extensive literature review and visits to cattle breeders, Cis van
Vuure has reconstructed the appearance and lifestyle of the prehistoric
aurochs. The Heck cattle that graze in the nature reserves in floodplain
areas of the Netherlands do not resemble the aurochs, although they have
been billed as the modern equivalent. Nor did the aurochs live in parkland
areas as suggested by landscape ecologist Dr Frans Vera, but in swampy
sedge marshes in extensive woodland areas.

The aurochs (Bos taurus primigenius) originated in South-East Asia, and
remains have been found from Thailand to present-day Western Europe. The
last aurochs lived in the area around Jaktorów in Central Poland up to
1627. Landscape ecologist Vera asserted in 2000 that the aurochs lived in
an open park-like landscape. Van Vuure however has now suggested that the
aurochs lived in a landscape of dense forests and various sorts of marshes
and moorland, especially in river valleys, mudflats and sedge marshes. Van
Vuure bases his conclusions on a number of findings including a ninth-
century rune poem, in which the ox is referred to as a ‘marsh wanderer’,
and from stories passed on that aurochs in Egypt lived along the Nile. Van
Vuure’s conclusion appears to be backed up by the fact that contemporary
wild cattle such as the African forest buffalo and the Canadian wood bison
live in similar biotopes. The European bison in contrast lives in a drier
environment, as it did in the time of the aurochs. The matter requires
further research according to Van Vuure.

Van Vuure believes that the aurochs was also bigger than the contemporary
Heck cattle now found in Dutch nature reserves. The Heck cattle were
introduced as a modern equivalent of the aurochs. The bull of the
prehistoric ancestor however had a shoulder height of 170 to 180 cm, and
the cow about 150 cm. The cattle that were bred back in the 1920s and 1930s
by the Heck brothers in Germany to resemble the original aurochs are twenty
to thirty centimetres shorter than the prehistoric ox. The aurochs was
bigger than most contemporary farm cattle, had longer legs and a stockier
body. According to Van Vuure the aurochs most resembles some Spanish
fighting bulls, both in build and the shape of the horns.

Van Vuure started his research in 1980, but completed the publication of
his book with the help of finance from the Wageningen Wetenschapswinkel in
the Sub-department of Nature Conservation.

Martin Woestenburg

Cis van Vuure, De Oeros – Het spoor terug. Price: €15 (plus €5 post and
packing). Can be ordered from wetenschapswinkel@wur.nl.

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