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Enormous auroch skeleton at Ness of Brodgar Neolithic site

Enormous auroch skeleton found at Ness of Brodgar Neolithic site


The Ness of Brodgar is a Neolithic site on the Scottish island of Orkney, consisting of the remains of housing, paved walkways, coloured facades, decorated stone slabs, a massive stone wall, and a large building described as a ‘cathedral’ or ‘palace’, inhabited from at least 3,500 BC. Now archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an enormous cow at the site that are so big, it could only be consistent with an aurochs – an extinct species of cow that was extremely rare, even in Neolithic times.

Reconstruction of the Ness of Brodgar Neolithic site

A reconstruction of what the site once looked like. Credit: Will MacNeil

Popular Archaeology, who reported the finding, wrote: “This is considered big news, because the aurochs, a huge, prehistoric ancestor to the modern day cow, is now extinct, the last one having died in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland in 1627. But even during Neolithic times, they had already become relatively rare.”

The aurochs (Bos primigenius) was a type of large wild cattle that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa, and is known to be the ancestor of domestic cattle.  The oldest aurochs remains have been dated to about 2 million years ago, in India.  During the Pleistocene, the species migrated west into the Middle East (western Asia) as well as to the east. They reached Europe about 270,000 years ago.

While the weight of most cattle today ranges between 270kg (595lb) to 900kg (1985lb), with the very largest breeds reaching around 1,100kg (2425lb), the ancient aurochs could weigh up to 1,500kg (3305), and measure up to 1.8 metres (5'9") in height. 

Aurochs in a cave painting in Lascaux

Aurochs in a cave painting in Lascaux, France. Image source: Wikipedia

"Further identification will be needed and this will have to wait until next year when the contexts can be properly excavated without the need to rush," reported the Dig Diary blogger for the Ness of Brodgar Excavations project. "However, it will have important implications for our understanding of the agricultural economy of the Neolithic in Orkney, and for the range of animals present at that time."

The discovery of the aurochs remains are just one of many exciting discoveries made at the Ness of Brodgar. The archaeological excavation, which has so far only unearthed around 10 per cent of the original site, has yielded thousands of incredible artifacts including ceremonial mace heads, polished stone axes, flint knives, a human figurine, miniature thumb pots, beautifully crafted stone spatulas, highly-refined coloured pottery, and more than 650 pieces of Neolithic art, by far the largest collection ever found in Britain. 

Earlier this year, archaeologists uncovered the 5,000-year-old remains of a sophisticated temple complex.  As well as a large collection of ancient artifacts that reflect a complex and culturally-rich society, archaeologists also discovered that the three major monumental structures on the island – the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stennes, and the Maes Howe tomb – were inextricably linked in some grand theme, although what its true purpose was is still unknown.  

Featured image: An aurochs skeleton found in Denmark dated to about 7500 BC. Source: Malene Thyssen, Wikimedia Commons

By April Holloway



angieblackmon's picture

How did they know they went extinct in 1627? While travel and trade was pretty modern by ancient standards, couldn't they have just migrated on to another area? Were they not seen for a number of years? Or did someone search the world and literally find the last one? Food for thought.

love, light and blessings


I wonder what an Auroch burger would've tasted like?

aprilholloway's picture

A valid criticism. I have added this information into the article. 



The primary focus of the article? An 'enormous cow'. What is not mentioned even once? Just how large these enormous cows averaged... Not their height nor their even their weight.

Justbod's picture

What an amazing find! The Ness of Brodgar continues to throw up surprises. Top of my 'must visit' list at the moment! Thanks for the article!

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aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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