Sunday, 9 February 2014

An awesome aurochs diorama in Berlin

Most aurochs reconstructions for museums are from mediocre to awful, so I was really surprised when a fellow member from a German forum for Cryptozoology/Zoology showed me photos of a pretty accurate and beautiful aurochs diorama at the Naturkundemuseum Berlin, one of the in my opinion best natural history museums in Germany. It is also that museum that displays this huge holocene bull skull. I visited two times but somehow overlooked that diorama. What strikes me most is the date when it was created: 1941. Back this time, most aurochs reconstructions were horribly incorrect. The aurochs usually was reconstructed as an oversized, massive domestic bull with longer horns and its typical colour, neglecting the gross differences in proportions and build as much as skull shape between domestic cattle and the aurochs and its very characteristic horn shape (no wonder Heck cattle advocates believed those cattle were authentic aurochs reconstructions). But this diorama has very accurate aurochs models: 

© Museum for Naturkunde Berlin, Hwa Ja Götz; used with permission
The artists were Karl Kaestner, Gerhard Schröder (not the politician, of course) and Viktor Stoetzner-Lund. As you see, the colour, horn, head and body shape are virtually correct. The legs should be longer, but the sexual dimorphism is portrayed very well. The artist really must have researched a lot and did their work really good - even such little details like the exact shape of the muzzle ring are accurate. The artist Wilhelm Hartig did a pretty good but a little bit imprecise painting of an aurochs bull one year later, but much more precise is his reconstruction from 1955, which was based on measurements of actual skeletons. This reconstruction is almost perfect from modern view, except that the hump was too low, what has been recognized already in the year 1957. 

So already in the 1940s and 50s artists did accurate aurochs life restorations, also with the aid of scientists, but unfortunately it had little if any impact on how Heck cattle breeders selected and crossed their cattle. 


  1. shouldn't the cows not be a little darker in the front, more like you still see in jerseycows ?,_close-up.jpg

    1. Aurochs-coloured cows usually get darker in colour towards the legs, neck and head, yes (like some cave paintings show). But it can't be ruled out that in some cases these areas were not considerably darker than the rest of the body, so I wasn't that strict here. Schneeberger describes aurochs cows being reddish brown, but doesn't note that some areas were darker than the rest; this doesn't have to mean much tough.