Sunday, 7 July 2019

New Auerrind herd, with photos!

The Auerrind project announced the start of a new breeding herd in Frankenstein, Germany (yes, there is a village called Frankenstein) this week. It is composed of the Watussi x Maremmana cow, a young Sayaguesa x Chianina bull, and two Tauros cows from the Netherlands. 

Here are some photos: 
© Auerrind project
Watussi x Maremmana cow © Auerind project
Sayaguesa x Chianina + the half-Watussi cow © Auerrind project
It is very interesting to see these two individuals growing. The Watussi influence in the cow shows rather strongly (which is not a bad thing considering it is an F1), partly possibly also because Podolian cattle have massive zebuine influence anyway. The colour is good and the horns will surely grow very large. The Sayaguesa x Chianina bull seems to have a diluted colour (the phenotype of an F1 is, from the technical view, not relevant for further breeding on qualitative traits). Bulls of this combinations show all possible colour variants between almost white and perfectly aurochs-like, which is peculiar considering that both parental breeds have a uniform phenotype (my possible explanation is that Chianina might not be all homozygous on the diluting loci despite its uniform phenotype, but that is only a suspicion). 

A robust aurochs

It often happens that my aurochs reconstructions might turn out a bit too lightweight. I always use original skeletons for the proportions, but I think it is possible that I underestimate the amount of soft tissue on the skeleton for fully grown adult aurochs. So also in my new aurochs model. It should be anatomically correct as it is based on multiple specimen, but it might be a bit too gracile on the soft tissue anatomy for a fully grown bull. 

So I took one of the photos of the model, tracked it out and finally did a truly massive aurochs specimen as far as the skeleton allows, and used extant wild bovines, especially wisent, as an analogue. This is the result: 

I think that fully grown, old and solitary aurochs bulls might have looked like this. There is an Italian cro-magnon stone carving that might show such a bull, which is portrayed as a pretty robust specimen (here). 

I think that an aurochs skeleton does not allow much more mass. The model is based mainly on the Sassenberg bull, which is described as an almost senile specimen because of its extensive tooth wear. So fully grown aurochs probably did not get much more massive than that, it simply was a comparably gracile species apparently. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

The Lippeaue herd's new web presence

The Lippeaue Taurus cattle population, which represents the top-level of quality for Taurus cattle breeding or perhaps aurochs-like cattle in general, now has a new and extensive web presence on the website of the ABU. 
I covered the Lippeaue herd in a lot of articles on this blog already, as I visited it in 2013, 2015 and 2017, and used it as a case-study for many aspects of breeding aurochs-like cattle. 

Now you can also use the website of the ABU to get some information and photos about the herd. It introduces the founding breeds, the results of 29 years of breeding and a selection of important individuals of the herd, with lots of photos. 

Sunday, 16 June 2019

A classification for Heck cattle

What kind of cattle breed is Heck cattle? Of course it is a “breeding-back” result. But how would we classify this breed if the concept of “breeding-back” would not exist and letting only the breed and its history speak for itself? 

Heck cattle are “normal” cattle 

Most important to note is that Heck cattle are “normal” cattle. By that I mean it is not dedomesticated (it does not have a feral ancestry/history), it is not anymore wildtype-like in behaviour, survival capacity, robustness or morphology than the so-called primitive breeds and it is also, of course, not a reconstructed aurochs. Nowadays barely anyone believes that, but when I started getting interested in “breeding-back” these myths were quite present on the internet and literature. Also, Heck cattle is neither an aggressive cattle breed nor the most aggressive breed known. This is simply not correct, despite all the lurid tabloid articles claiming the opposite. It is a robust breed, it is a healthy breed, it an aurochs-like breed but it certainly does not have a special status among all cattle breeds on this world and is not any less domestic than other cattle. 

What is Heck cattle based on its breeding history? 

It is often claimed that Heck cattle was bred using old and primitive cattle breeds from various places of Europe. In reality, however, Heck cattle is a mosaic breed of both more or less primitive breeds and derived breeds. Central European milk breeds actually played a considerable role in the creation of Heck cattle, including Braunvieh, Murnau-Werdenfelser, Angeln and Black-Pied. And the influence shows indeed: many Heck cattle bear striking resemblance to Murnauer, Angeln or Braunvieh and there are occasionally individuals showing white spots. It was mainly Corsican, Steppe and Highland cattle that contributed the “archaic” look. Heck cattle is therefore not all that exotic based on its ancestry but rather of mostly Central-European descent into which breeds from other regions have been crossed in. 
Heck cattle is, in my opinion, indeed more of a mosaic population rather than a true breed. It was created by more or less rampant crossbreeding of at least six breeds and the influx of very few afterwards, started from a small population of only a few dozen individuals that never had a uniform phenotype and were fragmented and spread among whole Germany respectively whole Europe afterwards. Some herds have been barely bred selectively since then, others, like the Wörth/Steinberg lineage created by W. Frisch, experienced rather intense selection. The consequence was a very heterogeneous population that displays a large degree of variability in morphology and also behaviour. Each herd shows a different spectrum of possible trait combinations. Some individuals bear a great resemblance to the founding breeds, and the genetic portion of the founding breeds obviously varies from herd to herd. Occasionally some individuals are very reminiscent of the founding breeds; some individuals are virtually indistinguishable from Hungarian Grey cattle for example (see the individual at 3:19 in this video). More advanced Heck cattle, however, are already a morphotype on their own, such as these individuals here. The degree of aurochs-likeness is just as variable as the breed itself, some individuals are rather good from a “breeding-back” perspective (f.e. here) while others are not (f.e. here). 

Is Heck cattle a landrace? 

Heck cattle is a robust, healthy and climate-resistant breed that is well-adapted for European nature systems. Does that make it a landrace? Poettinger 2011 does classify it as a landrace. A landrace is by definition a locally adapted variety of domestic animals that were not consciously created but just happened to evolve, experienced little artificial selection but instead were shaped by the natural factors they were exposed to. Landraces tend to be less uniform than normal breeds, more robust and resistant to nature in their local environment. They are somewhere in between a totally artificial breed and a feral population. About half of the breeds that Heck cattle was bred from can be considered landraces: Highland cattle, Grey cattle and Corsican cattle, while the other breeds would not necessarily fall under that definition.  

Heck cattle is as robust, healthy and adapted to the environment as a landrace, but I would not classify it as such because of its history. It was artificially created in a very protected environment (zoos and private farms) in the first half of the 20thcentury by crossbreeding landraces and derived breeds and subsequently was mainly kept in those protected environments. It has the same survival capacity as a landrace, but it is not a landrace itself. From the 1980s onwards, an increasing number of Heck cattle were kept under semi-natural conditions and being able to live under these conditions is a requirement in these populations. Nowadays, about the half or even the majority of the total Heck population are kept this way. Some of them, like those in some Dutch reserves, have been living that way for a couple of decades now. Under these conditions, those Heck cattle can become, so to say, a “controlled” landrace that was created consciously and that is also selected upon. Those herds that have been living in zoos or on private farms ever since would have to be excluded from this status. The herd in Oostvaardersplassen, which has been self-sustaining without any human interference for almost 40 years now, is even on the brink of becoming a feral population, and the process of dedomestication is definitely beginning and visible (see here). 

In a nutshell: a classification for Heck cattle

Heck cattle is a very plastic population of cattle that was created from a mix of less-derived landraces and derived breeds and is very variable not only in appearance and behaviour but also in the way the herds are kept; some are kept under completely artificial conditions in zoos and on private farms, others live or have been living under semi-natural conditions and one herd is in the process of becoming a feral population. Heck cattle is a breed that was created consciously by breeding, the selective pressure put upon the herds was nonexistent in some lineages to very intense in others, and not only the phenotype but also the husbandry conditions are very versatile in this population. This makes it neither comparable to a true landrace nor to a true breed, but rather a mosaic population. 

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Heck bull Aretto vs. aurochs

Taking aurochs reconstructions and using them as a direct comparison for living cattle is very helpful for judging their aurochs-likeness. It is way more effective than just eye-drawing and you see all differences at once. I think that my new aurochs bull model is very suitable for this job. I invested a lot of time into making it as scientifically correct as possible and I think it represents an authentic picture of a mature male aurochs from the Holocene of the northern half of Europe. 

In Walter Frisch’s Der Auerochs (2010), there is a photo of the Heck bull Aretto in a very similar stance, and I made a photo of my model from the same angle in order to compare the Heck bull and the aurochs reconstruction directly to each other. The photo of the Heck bull is copyright by Walter Frisch, please do not use it without permission and I hope it is OK for him that I present it on the blog here. 

Aretto  is a bull from the breed line of Walter Frisch, which is a strain that has been excellently. Members of this lineage often have superb horns, especially in dimension, the colour is ok and the bulls often have a shallow hump. The body, however, is quite normal by Heck standards. Aretto was one of the best bulls of this herd, so it is very interesting to compare this individual to an aurochs. 
Aretto ©Walter Frisch.
Aurochs bull model
Body size:The aurochs type that my model is based on is 175cm tall at the withers on average. The size for Aretto is claimed to be 160cm in the literature, but I visited the herd myself in 2013, and I consider 140-145cm for grown bulls of this lineage more realistic (I am open to be proven otherwise). So there is a considerable size difference.
Proportions:The proportions are totally different. The head is much smaller, the legs much shorter, the neck is shorter and the trunk more elongated in the Heck bull. 
Body shape:The muscling in the Heck bull is reduced, while the intestinum is greatly enlarged, and the spine of the trunk is also slightly hanging. The hump size is noticeable reduced. 
Head:The small head in the Heck bull is paedomorphic with a short snout (not that visible on the photo). 
Horns: The horns of the Heck bull are similar to those of the aurochs, but they look as if they were pulled outwards and upwards. Their size is smaller than in my aurochs, but there were certainly also aurochs with horns of this particular size. The thickness of the horns is similar to that of an aurochs’ horns. 
Appendages:The dewlap and the scrotum are greatly elongated. 
Colour: The colour is more or less identical, except for the fact that the Heck bull inherits a less-pronounced sexual dichromatism.

All in all, you see that the Heck bull is a rather ordinary domestic bull concerning body size and morphology and that the similarities are actually restricted to colour and horns. There would of course also be differences in behaviour between a wild aurochs and a domestic individual (f.e. stress response, lethargy/alertness etc.). This does not alter the fact that Aretto, and the Frisch lineage in general, are superb breeding results as they belong to the most qualitative Heck cattle herds around and I would use them for “breeding-back” at any time. 
Despite the morphological differences, I believe that a population of Arettos would look and behave indistinguishable from wild aurochs after 100-200 years of natural selection due to dedomestication, apart from size probably. 

More of these comparisons between the aurochs model and living cattle are to come. 

By the way, when looking at this photo of Aretto, I think it is possible to detect the Watussi influence that is documented for the Neandertal/Frisch lineage (which is, per se, not a bad thing in my opinion), but more on that in a future post. 

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Aurochs model: finally finished!

(Disclaimer: The photos below and the aurochs bull model are my property and I acclaim copyright. If you use them without permission as it happens all too often, I will get very angry.)

My newest aurochs model is finally finished. It took me six months because I am a horrible perfectionist, but it paid off: 

It is made from air-drying modelling clay and was painted with acrylic colours. It measures exactly 33cm at the withers and therefore is in 1:5,3 scale to a 175 cm tall aurochs. 

The source material for my model were qualitative photographs of mounted skeletons and skulls. The production sketch it was based on is my latest aurochs reconstruction drawing which is based mainly on the Sassenberg bull skeleton with elements of the Kopenhagen bull. The reference is therefore a male Bos primigenius primigeniusfrom the early Holocene of the northern half of its range. Other specimen that I used as a reference, especially for horns and skull, were the Berlin skull and the London skull. I consistently checked simply everything: the proportions, the shape of the trunk, the diameter of the legs, the diameter of the horns (I sculpted the bony cores first), the length of the horns, the width of the skull at the level of the eye sockets, horn base, snout etc., so everything should be perfectly in accordance with the reference specimens. (before anyone makes comments like “I doubt the legs were always that long”, “I think the size of the horns is exaggerated” or anything like that: guessing by eye is always nice but I built my model by measuring multiple specimen and using original sources, so the proportions should be right; the only variable is the amount of soft tissue that I put on it;  I might have made it still a bit too light for a fully grown bull, an error that often happens to me because I like to stay on the safe side, but the morphology is still plausible nevertheless). It was also very interesting that often when I calculated how large the head or how thick the legs should be, I at first thought “15 cm, no way, that is too large”, but when I the sculpted the shape I saw it worked out fine. 
The horns were tricky because I had to decide which size and orientation relative to the skull I would like to chose (for the curvature, I chose the most common one). Horn size varies greatly in aurochs, and also the orientation relative to the skull (from 40° in the oldest aurochs specimen to 90° in the Vig skull). Since my aurochs is based on early Holocene northern Eurasian aurochs, I had a look at photos of skulls from this age and region (Sassenberg 65°, Lund 60°, Kopenhagen 50°, Vig 90°, London 70°, Berlin ~65°, Baikal 70°) and chose for the average, 65°. The interesting thing is that the bony cores in my model did have an orientation of 65° degree relative to the snout, but when I added the horn sheaths, it changed to 70°. So the optical orientation of aurochs horns might differ between skulls and in life. 
For the horn length, I took the London, Baikal, Sassenberg and Berlin skulls as a reference. For a 175cm aurochs, the horn cores as large as in my model would be about 93cm, with sheaths 118cm. This on the larger end of the spectrum, but by far not the largest and is in perfect accordance with the fossils. The horn span would be 112cm (this equals those of Heck bulls of the Wörth lineage). That of the London skull would even be bigger. Regarding the size that the sheath adds to the bony cores, I simply took the average of what is given in the literature for preserved aurochs horns and cattle sheaths and what I measured myself on Taurus bull skulls ,which is adding about 30% to the length of the core and 1-2cm (in the real animal) of thickness to the horn. 

Of course I added the curly forelocks to my model, which are well-proven in historic reports and art. I also added the mane for which there is reason to assume its presence in wild aurochs bulls. 

I painted the model with acrylic colours. For the colour, I chose the only colour scheme that is proven for European aurochs bulls: I did not add a light colour saddle as there is no original evidence to assume that European bulls had one, only a solid black colour is proven. The mealy mouth is quite reduced as I think this would have been the case in mature wild bulls. There is also no evidence for a different colouration of the forelocks, although I cannot rule it out completely that this was the case in some aurochs bulls. The horns have a bright yellowish colour, which is based on actual aurochs horns and a Hungarian folklore song that sings of “the urus with its golden horns”. 

Go here, here, here and here to see work in progress pictures.  

Even for the width of the dorsal stripe I relied on original sources. The only source for that is Schneeberger 1602, who writes that the dorsal stripe was “two fingers wide”. Which would be 7mm in the model. When adding the dorsal stripe, I noticed how these light markings contribute to somatolysis in the living animal: 
WIP picture without dorsal stripe

All in all I am very happy with how the model worked out. It worked out exactly the way I wanted and I think it gives a very accurate impression of what a male aurochs from the Northern half of Europe in the early Holocene looked like. A old mature bull could probably have been heavier, but I think Sassenberg bull, Baikal bull, Berlin bull and London bull probably looked a great deal like this in life at some stage of their development. And it also lines up well with my previous aurochs bull reconstructions on paper. 
I think I also greatly progressed from my 2015 model in terms of artistic investment if you judge it on its artistic quality. 

Here you see the result from different angles (the snout profile is not completely straight, as in the London or Baikal skulls): 

Here you see how much perspective plays a role. On this shot, it looks like the model as an S-sloped back with a downturned pelvis like a zebu, although it actually has a straight back as you see on the other shots. Looking at the model, I think it would be hard to achieve aurochs-like horn volume without the influence of Watussi, Texas Longhorn or other very large-horned cattle breeds. 

What a mighty beast. If the aurochs had not been wiped out by mankind, it would probably be considered among the most majestic animals of today, right after the lion. 

Looking at the head from this angle, I get the impression that the horns of large-horned aurochs were a little larger than what is necessary for effective combat. They most likely also served a role in display. 
A 175 cm tall aurochs to a 175cm tall human

On this GIF, you see the aurochs compared to a 175cm tall human with withers heights ranging from 190cm, 175cm and 155cm. It shows what large beasts European aurochs bulls were, especially the giants with 190cm withers height which undoubtedly existed according to the fossil record. 

Thanks to this model I can envision a living, breathing, moving, walking aurochs much better and more complete and precise than before. 

I think it also shows very clearly how much most domestic cattle are removed from the aurochs. To me, it is obvious that from all modern cattle breeds that I know of, breeds like Lidia and Corriente resemble the aurochs the most in terms of morphology (and to a certain degree also behaviour), apart from size. Also, some Camargue have a very good shape albeit being very small. Just compare the photo of the model above with this Lidia, this Corriente, and this Camargue bull. When you look at a classic Heck bull, however, you see that the similarities to an aurochs are obviously restricted to superficial resemblance in colour and horn shape. The rest is ordinary domestic cattle morphology. 

I think that a mix of mainly Lidia and Corriente, supplied with Chianina, Camargue, Maltese, Sayaguesa, Maronesa and a little bit of Watussi for the horn size could result in morphologically very aurochs-like cattle. It would resemble a wild aurochs to a large extent, apart from some ineradicable morphological artefacts of domestication.  

Being motivated by how this model turned out, I am intending to do some more. For example, I want to do some mini busts in the same scales for aurochs heads with different kinds of horn types evidenced by aurochs skulls and horn sheaths. Plus an Indian aurochs bull in order to show the cranial differences. Also, I might want to do a female aurochs for that bull. We will see. After working on a bovine model for six months, my next model plan is a Tyrannosaurus rex, which is not actually relevant for the blog, but I would also like to do a woolly mammoth and a giant moa.  

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

A little delay

There will be a little delay with the aurochs model because I have to do some changes on it. It was indeed a bit too gracile on the head and neck area when I last posted photos of it. I made the horn tips and the face more massive, then I considered it okay and painted it. When I finally considered it completely finished, I realized that it should indeed be chunkier around the throat and cheek area in order to look really mature. 
I am currently working on these changes, maybe I can present the model on Saturday this week. Stay tuned, it will look awesome! 

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The London aurochs skull

My aurochs bull model is finally finished, but before I have the opportunity to take good photos of it, I want to cover an interesting aurochs specimen for today which is one of the individuals that I used as a reference for my model: the London skull

The London skull is a very impressive specimen. It was found in Ilford, London, is from the Neolithic period and on display in the Museum of London. Its sheer size of 91,2cm* from the top of the skull to the tip of the nasal bone as well as its morphology indicates that was a massive, large and fully mature bull. The horns are very thick, especially at the base, and proportionally large. The eye sockets are very prominent and the skull is robust in build overall. It is the largest  and most massive complete aurochs skull that I have seen so far and its length is the largest recorded in the literature (Frisch, 2010). The London bull might have been one of the 190cm tall beasts of the early Holocene. 

* This is very, very large, even for an aurochs bull. The average of aurochs skull lengths is 60-70cm according to the literature, and I found a photo on the web with a scale bar that might indicate the skull is “only” 60 cm long. 

A photo of the skull in profile view that I found on the internet shows that the horns have an angle of  about 70% relative to the snout and the snout has a slightly convex profile. Since the end of the nasal bone is turned down a little bit, I think it might be possible that the snout might be a bit down-turned and round like we see it in some Lidia today (another example how Lidia preserves some of the original aurochs traits and their variation). 

Too bad only the skull of this specimen is known or at least only on display. It must have been a very, very spectacular individual in life. And my model that just has been finished will give you a lively impression for that, stay tuned. 

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Aurochs model: Horns & finish

The shape of my aurochs model made from air-drying clay is finally finished and ready to be painted. I added the curly hair (the mane and forelocks) and the horns. Adding the horns was a crucial and fun step as they are quite an important part of an aurochs' life appearance. 

The reference specimen for the horn shape and size were the Sassenberg, Berlin, London and Baikal specimen. I checked each millimeter, so the dimensions should be correct. At first, I sculpted the bony cores as they are in the original skulls. I started by adding wire of the right size and curvature: 
Then, I started to sculpt the "horn core": 

If you look at fossil skulls, I would say those horns turned out to be very accurate
Before sculpting the "horn sheaths" I painted the horns with red acrylic colour, in order to distinguish them from the new material. The angle of the horn cores to the snout is exactly 65°, which is within the average for northern Eurasian aurochs (Sassenberg: 65°, Lund 60°, Kopenhagen 50°, Vig 85-90°, London 70°, Berlin 70°(?), Baikal 70°; deduced from photos). 
Then, I added the horn tips which would add about 30% to the length (average, but there is great variation) by following the curvature:
After that, I added the thickness of the sheath. As original aurochs horn sheaths are known to have added about 1-2cm in thickness to the bony core, it would be about 2-3mm in the model, which is what I did: 
Then, I completed the shape: 
And sanded it with sandpaper: 

The result resembles the horns of wild yak greatly, which have horns nearly identical to those of aurochs. I think about adding a bit to the thickness of the horns, looking at live yaks and preserved horn sheaths. 

This is what the (nearly) finished model looks like at the moment. I will start painting it as soon as I can: 
The head and horns look a bit huge due to perspective, by the way. 

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Auerrind herd at Groß-Rohrheim

Two days ago, a couple of new recent photos of the Auerrind herd at Groß-Rohrheim, Germany, were published on the Auerrind Project's blog: 
The white individual in the background is a pure Chianina cow, the two next to it are two Sayaguesa x Chianina (the blogpost doesn't specify the sex, but they might both be female). In the front at the left, there is the Sayaguesa x Grey cattle cow plus the Watussi x Maremmana heifer. 
The Sayaguesa x Chianina individuals seem to have a quite well-shaped anatomy and good size, I am looking forward to see them as adults, and especially F2 of this generation. 
This is the Watussi x Maremmana heifer. The colour seems to be perfect (phenotypically, it surely is heterozygous for recessive colour dilution genes), the horns are probably going to develop a nice volume. The curvature most likely will be rather straight and upright, but this is to be expected from this combination and can be fixed in later generations. A (Watussi x Maremmana) x (Sayaguesa x Chianina) would be tempting, more efficiently in the form of an F2 x F2 combination. 

It is nice to see that the Auerrind project is still progressing well, especially since the first Chianina xWatussi individual was born recently

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Horn shape evolution in Oostvaardersplassen

I already covered my suspicion that Heck cattle are morphologically changing in the Oostvaardersplassen reserve due to natural selection in a number of posts, see here, here or here. Each of these posts provide photos of individuals endorsing my suspicion. 

And so does this post. A number of individuals in the Oostvaardersplassen reserve show horns that are definitely curving inwards and facing more or less forwards in an aurochs-like manner. Here are photos that I recently discovered via google search: 

- Photo 1 
- Photo 2
- Photo 3 (cow in the front, left)

I am convinced that these three photos all show the same individual and I think it is quite likely that it is the same as on older photos like this one, just fully mature. On photo 2 linked above you also see a cow in the background that also has remotely aurochs-like horns. On photos available in the web, there is also another individual on older photos that shows the same colour morph and horn shape as the cow in the background on photo 2 but more mature, so there are at least 3 individuals born in Oostvaardersplassen that show an aurochs-like horn shape. 

What is striking is that I haven't ever seen any Heck cattle in real or on photos (contemporary or historic) outside of Oostvaardersplassen that show this horn shape, indicating that this phenotype might be unique to the population within the Heck cattle gene pool. While body shape and to a certain degree maybe also proportions can be influenced by phenotypic plasticity, I see now plausible way how phenotypic plasticity may influence horn shape that visibly. Therefore, I think that we see a true shift of allele frequency due to selective pressure, and thus evolution, in the Oostvaardersplassen that is at the same time also a regression towards the wildtype. This is an assumption that endorses a concept of dedomestication as outlined in the dedomestication series

A puzzling question is why we see this tendency only in cows, and not in bulls so far. 

Aurochs model update

About one month passed since my latest aurochs model update, so it is time for another one (please do not use the photos without permission). 

This is what the model looked like about one week ago. The height at the withers is still 33cm. I corrected the nose, added ears, eyelids, tail and penis and scrotum (without the tuft the model looks a bit like an ox to me, by the way). I also made the ribcage broader by about 1cm (not really detectable on the photo). 

As you see on the photos, the back of my model was slightly sloping at this stage - we never see this in wild bovines, only in domestic cattle, which is why I consider that a domestic trait and corrected it afterwards. In the meantime I also sculpted the forelocks, mane and other coat details a European aurochs bull probably had, and now that the body is more or less finished, I start doing the horns. Photos are about to come. 

I have to say it is very exciting and also teaching to do this model. I learned a lot about the three-dimensional anatomy of bovines and I am very enthusiastic about how the model works out. I am incredibly looking forward to doing the horns and painting. 

Monday, 25 March 2019

First Chianina x Watussi is born

Today, the Auerrind project announced that the first Chianina x Watussi calf was born this week. It's a cow calf.

I am very happy to see first individuals of this cross combinations being born. It will be very interesting to see how it will work out in terms of body shape, size, horn size, horn curvature, coat colour - everything will be very tempting to watch in this combination. I am so much looking forward to see this calf growing! 

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Aurochs model: Work in progress

Here are a few work in progress photos of my new aurochs bull model from air-drying modelling clay that I started in December 2018:

And you see, it is really moving on. The body is almost done, I just started on meaking the ribcage and abdomen a little bit broader as I felt it was too sleek for an adult bull. I use Lidia bulls and extant wild bovines a lot as a comparison. When the body and head is completely done, I will start doing the horns (originally, I planned to make replaceable horns in order to appreciate the variation within aurochs, but that turned out as too complicated so I will sculpt the most common type). After that, the last details that I am going to add will be wrinkles in the skin and hair.
The last step will be to paint it with acrylic colours. I will pay a lot of attention to make a truly convincing colouration.
The model measures 33cm at the withers, and you won't believe that I already incorporated about 10 liters of modelling clay into it.

I am really looking forward to see the model finished and it is great fun watching it progress. I am very, very happy that the model is arithmetically wonderfully anatomically correct, at least I was not able to find any mistakes. Actually, the model so far matches 100% what I imagine a grown aurochs bull to have looked like.

Video of very aurochs-like Lidia bulls

I recently found this video of a couple of Lidia bulls that I find to have a rather impressive morphology on youtube: 
The body shape of these bulls is superb and very wild cattle-like, also the horns of many of the individuals are well-curved and not all too small. If the extremities and horns just would be a little larger and the colour would match, they would resemble wild aurochs to a very large extent.  

I just say how it is: To me, Spanish fighting cattle are the most aurochs-like breed overall that is still extant today. 

Having herds of Lidia individuals like these and supplementing them with portions of Chianina (for leg length and overall size) and Watussi (horn size) would probably lead to stunning results. Then adding a little bit of Sayaguesa and Maronesa, and the strain would be superb from the optic perspective. 

Monday, 4 February 2019

New aurochs model upcoming

In 2015, I did models of an aurochs bull and cow in scale 1:10 made from polymer clay. You can see them on this post, they are displayed at the Alpenzoo Innsbruck now. I think that from an anatomical and artistic perspective, they were good but not perfect. So I started a new model a few weeks ago. 
It measures 33cm at the withers, so it is in 1:5,3 scale to a 175cm bull. I started with a base made from cardboard and wire and added a ribcage made of papier mache. The rest of the model is made/will be made of air-drying modeller clay. 

The basis for the model is my recent aurochs bull reconstruction, which is based on the Sassenberg bull skeleton with added traits from the Kopenhagen skeleton. I am using photos of both specimen as well as that of the Vig skeleton as a guide. So to say, my model is based on three more or less completely preserved bull specimen. 

Here are some work in progress photos: 

I plan to add a special feature to my aurochs bull model: I want it to have replaceable horns that can be seamlessly stuck onto the model, so that I can exchange the horns. I would do one pair of horns for each type of horn shape, size and orientation. The reason is that European aurochs simply had such manifold horns in these three respects (the curvature, however was always the same) so that a model with just one type of horns would not appreciate this nearly enough. I will do a test if this is practically feasible and present the various horn types that I am planning to do in a future post. 

I am looking forward to finishing the model and hope it works out that well. I am continuously checking the model for accuracy (proportions, shape) by doing measurements and using photos and comparing it to the original skeleton(s). When it is done, I am going to paint it with acrylic colours. 

If course I am going to paint it in the best-supported (or, to  put it differently, the only supported) colour scheme for European aurochs bulls: completely black with a light dorsal stripe and a (perhaps reduced) muzzle ring. But there are other colour variants that are also plausible for an aurochs bull (go here). In order to appreciate that, I am also planning to do multiple models (perhaps only about 8-10cm withers height), all copies of each other, and paint them in the other colour variants that might be plausible.  

Maybe I am also going to do female for the bull, in the same scale and also based on my most recent reconstruction. I would also do some mini models for the cow in order to appreciate the many colour variants plausible for aurochs cows as well. A model for an Indian aurochs would also be very tempting. 

I know these plans are ambitioned but I hope to finish the large bull model at least and I am very optimistic about that one. 

When the basic shape for the aurochs bull is done, I will use it for a volumentric weight calculation in order to get an idea for the weight of a grown aurochs bull. 

Sunday, 20 January 2019

The last aurochs hybridized with cattle in the wild

Domestic animals and their wild counterparts are usually able to interbreed freely and produce fertile hybrids. Thus, it is always likely that everywhere they share their habitat, they might interbreed and thus mutually influence their populations. Domestic animals always might escape, and wildtype animals always might leave a track in domestic stock by occasional mating. 
When discussing whether aurochs and cattle interbred in Europe, it mostly concerned the question if local aurochs left a genetic trace in cattle populations. The other way round, domestic cattle influencing local aurochs, was not examined yet. However, I have always considered it very likely that escaped domestic cattle left a trace in European aurochs. It happens everywhere where wildtype and domestic type are neighbouring – you see that in wolves (some colour variants, such as black in wolves, are believed to have been inherited from domestic dogs), in wild boar displaying domestic colour, and it has also been proven for late European wild horses that inherited the emutation from domestic stock (see Pruvost et al. 2011). I see no reason why it should not have happened that escaped domestic cattle interbred with aurochs and left a detectable trace in wild populations. 

This interesting question has now been examined by Bro-Jorgensen 2018. A number of ornamented drinking horns from medieval times or shortly after that are suspected to stem from aurochs because of their shape and size have been genetically analysed for mitochondrial haplotypes and sex. The sample also includes the horn of the last aurochs bull that died in Jaktorow, Poland, in 1620. 
Medieval aurochs drinking horn - large, thick and evenly curved
Horn of the last aurochs bull - smaller, thin and not that curved
All of the horns tested turned out to be from males – considering their shape I would be surprised if turned out otherwise – and most of them have the aurochs haplotypes P. The horn of the last bull and two other drinking horns, however, surprisingly carry the haplotype T, which is widespread among taurine cattle. While the origin of the two drinking horns might not be that clear, it is very likely that the claimed horn of the last aurochs bull is indeed from this population and individual. It is also very likely that the population in Jaktorow was not simply a feral cattle population because of historic reports. Thus, the most likely conclusion is that aurochs of the latest centuries, or at least the remnant population at Jaktorow, was genetically influenced by escaped domestic cattle. As this influence is found on mtDNA, which is maternally inherited, the influence must be from a domestic cow at least. Influence from domestic bulls is of course also possible, but was not examined and domestic bulls probably had a hard time competing with wild aurochs bulls anyway. 
Natural selection would probably eradicate most of the domestic influence, except for factors with little selective pressure on them, such as these mitochondrial haplotypes. Perhaps, if the domestic influence was widespread towards the end of the existence of the aurochs (when space became increasingly limited and thus they often neighboured domestic stocks) there also were aurochs populations displaying domestic colour variants, although no such cases have been reported in historic texts. Domestic cattle influence also shows in American bison, where it is particularly visible in horn shape and size (see here, for example). The horn sheath of the last aurochs bull was comparably small (only 45 in length, which is considerably smaller than the bony cores of earlier aurochs males). Even if it was a young individual at the time of death, most likely the last aurochs population had comparably meagre horns as a consequence of limited resources and trophy hunting, but domestic cattle intermixing might be a further reason. This would also explain why the curvature is not nearly as intense and even as in the older drinking horns (cattle intermixing affects horn shape in wild bovines as the bison example shows). 

This discovery is interesting and totally what I expected and predicted. Questions that are particularly intriguing are how widespread and intense that domestic introgression into local aurochs population was, and how large the influence on the visible phenotype of these aurochs population was. 


Pruvost et al.: Genotypes of predomestic horses match phenotypes painted in Paleolithic works of cave art. 2011.