Why the Aurochs could not be domesticated.

” Historical descriptions, like Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico or Schneeberger, tell that aurochs were swift and fast, and could be very aggressive. According to Schneeberger, aurochs were not concerned when a man approached, but when teased or hunted, an aurochs could get very aggressive and dangerous, and throw the teasing person into the air, as he described in a 1602 letter to Gesner.[9]”

Much more dangerous than zebras.

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61 Responses to Why the Aurochs could not be domesticated.

  1. Frau Katze says:

    I admit it’s only Wikipedia but it says they were domesticated. The domesticated ones were quite different, so they have a different name.

    Worth noting that bulls are still prone to being dangerous. Dairy cattle are artificially inseminated and the few bulls are kept at special facilities. I learned that when I worked for Agriculture Canada (as a computer programmer).

    Zebras? Are you thinking of Jared Diamond saying they couldn’t be domesticated? I know nothing about that. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of zebras menacing people.

  2. Sandgroper says:

    But maybe Aurochs were good fun to use for bull jumping. Minoan frescoes depict the bulls used for this were huge. Lots of moderns seem to doubt the reality behind these depictions, but I don’t. People do crazy shit for fun and giggles; girls as well as boys (well, I guess a subsector of girls who have less risk aversion, but then not all testosterone charged young males would be mad enough to try to somersault over a charging bull also – like, well, me, for example. I had way too many risky close calls with bulls as it was to actually go looking to play with the bloody things; but a mad bastard friend of mine was into bull riding in rodeos until his wife made him give it up; he’s now a blasting contractor in civil construction and quarrying/mining – it figures; his favourite trick is to stand on top of the shot, small ones, when he fires it; I tried it once – you get a hell of a ride.)

    Bulls are always bloody hazardous, even the domesticated ones – a girl working with cattle in the south of Western Australia was only very recently killed by being crushed against a fence post by a bull.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Yeah, the one Paul Bunyan gave the link for.

    • ohwilleke says:

      “he’s now a blasting contractor in civil construction and quarrying/mining – it figures; his favourite trick is to stand on top of the shot, small ones, when he fires it; I tried it once – you get a hell of a ride.”

      File under hobbies I don’t plan on taking up any time soon.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Andrew, yes, I got over it pretty fast myself. You only need one blasthole with insufficient stemming of the upper part of the hole and the blast goes upwards, where you are, instead of outwards where it is supposed to go.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Perhaps groups of cocky adventurous teenage boys were told, if you guys can bring that Auroch bull in with no injuries, the girls will be really impressed. Even the adult men would be impressed.

      Another dangerous animal is the wild boar. Maybe there’s some that aren’t. I don’t know. In any case, they were domesticated too.

      • TWS says:

        The bulls were probably semi wild for a long time after the cows had been teamed down. For horses it looks like there were a lot of different female lines of domestication but only one male line. The pay off for a calmer stallion would be enormous but that never happened with cattle. They keep getting mixed with local bulls. Maybe because you don’t typically ride them so the need want as acute for a calm critter.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        baby animals

      • Jim says:

        When I lived in Guam as a child there were wild boars. Sometimes they invaded our play areas and we beat a quick retreat. They had mean looking tusks.

      • Jim says:

        How much would the girls be impressed if you got killed?

        • Frau Katze says:

          I see your point but you must admit there is a subset of men who like to do risky things.

          Like Columbus for example. He was taking a big risk, one that many early explorers took and lost.

          On balance, I think that nabbing baby Aurochsen was no doubt what they did.

          • Jim says:

            On all his exploration voyages Columbus was never closer to China than he was where he was born. He was a miserable failure.

      • ironrailsironweights says:

        Another dangerous animal is the wild boar. Maybe there’s some that aren’t. I don’t know. In any case, they were domesticated too.

        Feral hogs are a major invasive species in the southern US and in most areas can be hunted year-round with no bag limits. And not just with guns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atOzX0hNRPY


  3. dearieme says:

    It was probably at this blog that I learnt this.

    • Sandgroper says:

      There is a difference between taming a wild animal and domesticating it.

      Zebras are not domesticated (or have not been so far, to my knowledge), and would probably look quite a bit different if they were. Domestication of animals changes them in some pretty noticeable ways (see, for example, the fox domestication experiment). But they can be tamed, as evidenced by your link.

      Cattle are obviously domesticated, or the ones regularly utilised by humans are (gaur are still pretty big and scary looking, though, but I haven’t seen any comparison between wild gaur and domesticated ones to know to what extent they have been changed by domestication – I should look up “gayal”, which is the domesticated form of the gaur, to find out – I see that the gayal was produced by crossing wild gaur with domesticated cattle, so in that case it is obvious that they will have undergone some very notable physical changes) and have changed quite a bit in size, appearance, etc., but domesticated cattle, particularly bulls, might be notably not tame.

      Be grateful that most domesticated bulls are not the size of an aurochs bull, particularly in the northern areas of their range before extinction – they grew to 6 feet high or more at the shoulder (although there are a few breeds of domesticated cattle that are pretty huge) – they are dangerous enough animals as they are.

      • Smithie says:

        What I inferred from Diamond was that he was saying Zebras could not be domesticated because they could not be tamed. At any rate, I think if you can tame something you can probably breed it.

        I never really understood that part of his argument very well. Didn’t horses and aurochs have natural predators? Weren’t there not only wolves but also big cats in Europe? Let alone ancient hominids? Neanderthals ate rhinos and mammoths. I don’t think they would have considered aurochs and horses non-kosher.

        • Sandgroper says:

          You can domesticate something without taming it first.

          Pleistocene cave paintings by anatomically modern humans include nice pictures of aurochs, so it seems like a pretty safe bet that the humans hunted them. They hunted cave lions and bears and other things that must have scared the shit out of them. You either live in fear of something, or you confront it.

  4. MawBTS says:

    And that’s a description of aurochsen in the 17th century! The ancient strain of aurochs that was domesticated would presumably have been even bigger and scarier.

    (Usually when megafauna and man exist side by side, the megafauna gets smaller with time. Modern wild Amur tigers are substantially smaller and lighter than the ones recorded in the early 20th century. Probably a combination of hunt-induced selection and degrading natural habitat).

  5. another fred says:

    The Russian experiments on breeding foxes provides an example. I would not be surprised by success (varying, sure) with any animal given enough generations.


    • another fred says:

      Make that any mammal.

      • AppSocRes says:

        Humans seem to have done a pretty good job with birds also. If aquaculture weren’t so easy as it is, I’ve no doubt we’d do the same with fish. Some insects have been domesticated, e.g., the European honey bee. I’ve no doubt others could be and rather quickly, comparing their life cycles with those of domesticated mammals.

        • Tom Bri says:

          Speaking as a beekeeper (though novice), bees are not really domesticated. I got mine by catching feral swarms in baited traps. Unlike cows, bees can’t be fenced in.

          There has been some selective breeding done via artificial insemination, so some strains are tamer than others, some produce more honey etc, but any bee variety can and does take off for the hills and survives quite nicely. Most bee breeding is purely random. The queen flies and mates with whatever drones can catch her.

          • Jim says:

            But the different wild types can vary a lot in how mean they are. When I lived in Guam as a child I quickly learned to take the Guam bees much, much more seriously than US bees. The Guam bees meant business. They didn’t want you anywhere hear their nests.

    • Old fogey says:

      Thank you for the link. Note the much larger number of vixens in the tamed group.

  6. bb753 says:

    Wild horses were more aggressive than zebras. To domesticate an animal, you just need to be patient and keep taming and breeding the less aggressive individuals.

  7. Sandgroper says:

    I have just figured out what you are up to, Greg – you’re taking a shot at Jared Diamond for saying in Guns, Germs and Steel that zebras could not be domesticated. You know very well that aurochseses were domesticated during the Neolithic at least twice.

    That took me a while.

  8. AppSocRes says:

    LOL! I always thought Diamond’s argument about zebras versus horses was so obviously circular as to be silly. More recently, recent invaders of sub-Saharan Africa have made a good living from raising ostriches, an idea that never seems to have crossed the autochthones’s minds.

    A recent book on the history of domesticated animals is “Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World” by Richard C. Francis. https://www.amazon.com/Domesticated-Evolution-Man-Made-Richard-Francis/dp/0393064603/ref=pd_sim_14_1/147-6353339-3396850?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=H4DRHH6YTTT4N73NB6ZA

    I found the chapters on (1) camels and llamas; and (2) rodents and lapids particularly interesting. One conclusion I drew from this book is that if humans have an inclination to domesticate something, they can always find raw materials ready to hand.

  9. Thagomizer says:

    A domesticated zebra would likely lose its distinct stripe pattern. So you’d be left with an ill-tempered horse.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You can breed for disposition. You would have ended up with a striped horse that was resistant to nagana and thus useful in southern Africa.

      • TWS says:

        They’re ugly in confirmation and their vocalizations are grating. I would prefer to engineer disease resistance in horses. Our natural friends…

  10. Aurochs were both swift AND fast? Wow, that’s quite a combo. No wonder they were so tough to deal with.

  11. Difference Maker says:

    Always wanted to be a rodeo rider

  12. Cavalier says:

    Cattle-raiding Kenyans.

  13. J says:

    Also don’t forget Asians domesticating/taming the elephant. Hannibal famously using war elephants to cross the alps.

    Or Scandinavians and Russians using tamed reindeer to travel by sled and for their milk.

    I’m sure there are other examples of difficult species to tame/domesticate as well.

  14. Pingback: Why the Aurochs could not be domesticated. | @the_arv

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