The aurochs is a species similar to the African Buffalo, Water Buffalo, Muskox, Yak, Wisent or Bison. According to J. Rostafiński “aurochs was similar to an ox from the Podolia region and the Hungarian Ox and also to Andalusian Bulls” (Ossendowski, 1936). The description of the species may be deduced from several sources. The oldest sources are the pictures, reliefs and cave paintings dating back to about 17,000 (and more) years ago. The other sources are: Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, or Roman descriptions originating during the time of the conquests of Gaul and Germania, Germanic sagas and songs (written in the runic alphabet), and more modern reports, mainly German and Swiss, which describe aurochs in the Baltic territory including Poland, as well as in Moldova. The most reliable are Polish descriptions, especially those from the 15--17th centuries. The most limited, although also the most objective source, are the remains of those animals found in Europe, Africa and Asia. Although the found remains allow us to precisely establish certain features of the aurochs, nothing may be concluded about its external appearance and the features are dependent on the precision of dating.
Descriptions of aurochs are a rarity. Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) in About the Gallic War (Commentarii rerum gestarum belli Gallici or in another way De beloGallico) wrote about the aurochs: “…these animals which are called uri. It is somewhat below the size of an elephant and has its appearance, colour and shape as a bull. Their strength and speed are remarkable; they spare neither a man nor a wild animal that is noticed by them. Germanic people catch them with huge pains into excavations and kill them. Young men toughen by the exercises and they practice themselves this type of hunting, and those who slaughter the largest number of them, showing in public their horns as proof, get the biggest prize. But even a very young animal cannot become docile and neither tame with a human. The size, shape and appearance of their horns considerably differ from the horns of our ox. These ones are searched for with anxiety and their ends are framed and used as cups during the most lavish parties” (Caesar, 58 B.C.).
Conrad Gessner (1551) in his work concerning quadrupeds, birds, fishes, snakes and scorpions known at his time, also published letters of Anton Schneeberger and Johann Bonar describing aurochs as: “a very agile animal, however not long-lived; they say that only a few of them lived longer than 15 years”, “They gather in September, very excited, and often they wage battles with each other in which sometimes both sides fall down dead” (Lasota-Moskalewska, 2005). The letters suggest that calves born in autumn were weak and often did not survive severe winter. Before delivery, cows were going deep into backwoods where they stayed with their calves for about twenty days and then let them free in a pasture and looked after them with care.
The remains of aurochs that could be seen in many Polish museums were not considered very attractive as they were thought to be too “new”. Therefore, they would fill up storerooms, or were handed over to schools. As a consequence, at present it is hard to put together a full skeleton of the aurochs (Fig. 1).
DANIEL LIPIŃSKI1,2, HANNA PRZYSTAŁOWSKA1, MARLENA SZALATA1,2, JOANNA ZEYLAND1,
KAROLINA WIELGUS3, HIERONIM FRĄCKOWIAK1, ALEXANDER M. DZIEDUSZYCKI4,
MIROSŁAW S. RYBA4, RYSZARD SŁOMSKI1,2*
1 Poznań University of Life Sciences, Poznań, Poland
2 Institute of Human Genetics, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poznań, Poland
3 Institute of Natural Fibres and Medicinal Plants, Poznań, Poland
4 Polish Foundation for Restoration of the Aurochs, Warszawa, Poland
* Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org