Saturday, January 28, 2017


Cave painting of an aurochs.
Public Domain.

On January 7, 2017, I posted a column titled Cave Art Provides A Confirmation Of A Hybrid Bison Species In Paleolithic Europe, which presented the use of cave art to confirm a theory about the evolutionary development of the European bison which had been based upon genetic analysis of ancient remains. Previously, on December 4, 2011, I had posted a column titled Lascaux's Paintings, the Aurochs, and Heck's Cattle, about attempts in the middle of the last century to breed cattle back to their Paleolithic form, the Aurochs. These Heck's Cattle were produced using traditional methods of selecting for traits and crossbreeding. Each generation being selectively bred for appearance and behavior that was assumed to be similar to the Aurochs. These attempts were begun in Germany in the 1920s by two brothers with the name of Heck. They were later supported by the Nazi party in Germany. A lineage of cattle was bred by each brother, one in Berlin and one in Munich. The Berlin animals did not survive the war so modern Heck cattle are descended from the Munich line.

Gaur, the largest living cattle
breed. Public domain.

"The aurochs was one of the largest herbivores in postglacial Europe, comparable to the wisent (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). 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). The sexual dimorphism between bulls and cows was expressed with the cows being significantly shorter than bulls on average." (Wikipedia)

Cave painting of an aurochs,
Lascaux. Public domain.

A number of programs in Europe are now undertaking to breed a new aurochs, not through traditional breeding practices exemplified by the Heck's Cattle, but by using genetic analysis to locate genes similar to the aurochs in modern breeds and recombine them, in a sense to breed back to future of the aurochs.

A photoshopped image representing an
aurochs with two men. Public domain.

"The Dutch-based Tauros Programme (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. 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. Tauros Programme started collaborations with Rewilding Europe and European Wildlife, two European organizations for ecological restoration and rewilding, and now has breeding herds not only in the Netherlands, but also in Portugal, Croatia, Romania, and the Czech Republic. Numerous crossbred calves of the first, second, and third offspring generations have been born already." (Wikipedia)

Cro-Magnon graffito of aurochs (Bos
primigenius) in Grotta del Romito,
Papasidero, Italy. Wikipedia,
public domain.

Arden Dier, writing for, on January 10, 2017, wrote: "Standing nearly as tall as an elephant, the aurochs grazed for 250,000  years until its extinction in 1627. But its story may not end there: Scientists say they are close to resurrecting the "supercow," once the largest land mammal in Europe, reports CNN. In search of herbivores to maintain land areas at risk of becoming barren, geneticists began breeding aurochs descendant with similar cattle breeds in 2008 and found they could "produce animals far closer to the aurochs than we would have expected," says Ronald Goderie of the Tauros Project. Fourth-generation beasts have now been introduced in Croatia, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, and Romania with promising results.
"We see progress not only in looks and behavior but also in de-domestication of the animals," says Goderie, noting one herd has learned to defend itself against wolves. The hope is that they will become part of the ecosystem to maintain land for other enimals. But a rep for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature says it's unclear "whether primarily wetland forests like the aurochs used to inhabit still exist, whether it could negatively impact wild or domestic plants or animals, and if it might endanger people." Indeed, a British farmer had to kill some of his aurochs-descended cattle in 2015 because they tried to kill him, per the Independent. That species, however, came from a Nazi breeding program that used Spanish fighting cattle." (

Once again we look at the possibility of being able to see the mighty creatures that our ancient ancestors lived among and that they recorded in the beautiful heritage of Paleolithic cave art. Definitely an exciting possibility (you can read the original story at, check the full address in References below.)

NOTE: Some of the illustrations above were procured as the result of an Internet search for "aurochs - public domain." If any of these images were not actually meant for public domain usage I apologize for misusing them.

NOTE-2: A few days after posting this article I received my March 2017 issue of Discover magazine which includes a longer article on this subject, "Return of the Aurochs," written by Jonathon Keats. Check this out.


Dier, Arden
2017 Cows Once As Big As Elephants May Soon Roam Europe,, January 10, 2017.

Faris, Peter
2011 Lascaux's Paintings, the Aurochs, and Heck's Cattle,, December 4, 2011.


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