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.