Estimated to average around 150cm (cows) and 170cm (bulls) at the shoulder, the aurochs

was an important animal to humans, during prehistory when it was widely hunted, and in some areas also during historical periods. It is generally agreed to be the wild ancestor of domestic cattle

The last known aurochs died in Poland in 1627. In Britain it seems they disappeared much earlier (possibly due to expanding cultivation and hunting), but there is some conflict in the sources as to when:

  • Bronze Age (Wikipedia article on aurochs). The most recent source in the references listed here is 2005. Some of the notes indicate sources more recent than this but these seem to be mostly scientific papers related to breeding. The Wikipedia list of extinct animals of the British Isles gives c.1000 BC.
  • Iron Age (ancient-origins.net). This source cites an article in the Telegraph from December 2016.
  • c. 1500 BC or possibly late Iron Age (Elizabeth Wright). This doctoral thesis is from 2013. She also mentions a late Iron Age find but I have been unable to find an update on this:

    Whilst this thesis was being written a very large distal tibia was found in a British Late Iron Age context at Marston Park in Bedfordshire... (Mark Maltby pers. comm.)

Are there any more recent sources which might clarify whether the aurochs became extinct in Britain in the Bronze Age or the Iron Age?

  • 1
    Note that on page 93 of her thesis, Elizabeth Wright observes that "British data are available from Marine Isotope Stage 9 to the Bronze Age, when the aurochs is thought to have gone extinct in Britain.". I'm not aware of any published results that contradict that. Jan 14, 2018 at 13:36
  • I'm mostly curious about the potential Marston Park find. I assume that, at the time she submitted her thesis, further info was not available. That was around 4 years ago so I'm wondering if the Mark Maltby reference has produced any results since then. Jan 14, 2018 at 14:18
  • I'm guessing it's the excavations mentioned on page 6 of SMA 41. The summary doesn't mention Aurochs at all though. I guess that "very large distal tibia" could still be from large domesticated cattle. Jan 14, 2018 at 14:54
  • 1
    Remember there is a difference between extinct and extirpated. A species which is no longer found on Britain, but still present on mainland Europe , as records indicate, can still have individuals imported from the other population at a later date. this article might indicate such activity.
    – justCal
    Jan 14, 2018 at 20:16
  • Sorry, missed the link to the article: Genome sequencing of the extinct Eurasian wild aurochs...
    – justCal
    Jan 14, 2018 at 20:30

1 Answer 1


According to Five thousand years of livestock in Britain Biological Journal of Linnean Society (1989), 38: 31-37 :

There may also have been some interbreeding between domestic and wild cattle in Britain during the prehistoric period, but by 3000 years ago the aurochs was probably extinct (Clutton-Brock, 1986). The latest radiocarbon date for the aurochs is 3245 +/- 37 BP [BM-731] from the Bronze Age site of Charterhouse Warren Farm in Somerset (Burleigh & Clutton-Brock, 1977).

However, according to A Radiocarbon date for Bos primigenius from Charterhouse Warren Farm, Mendip Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society 1977, vol. 14, pages 255-257, the 3245 years before present (1295 BC) date was before correction for radioisotope fractionation, and after correction (quoting from page 256):

the real age is 3570 +/- 110 BP (1620 +/- 110 BC).

See also the more recent A record of the aurochs, Bos primigenius, from Morayshire The Glasgow Naturalist (2012) Volume 25, Part 4. This reference says that an auroch skull from Galloway has dated to within uncertainty of the Charterhouse Warren Farm auroch.

An even more recent article, for which I don't have full text access, is Disappearance Beyond Recall: A Social Context for Bronze Age Aurochs Extinction in Britain? Proceedings of the Prehistorical Society Volume 81, December 2015 , pp. 107-123. The abstract says:

The implications of pit-deposits containing aurochs/Bos primigenius skulls dating to the Bronze Age, found in two recent excavations in Bedfordshire are outlined. Involving a review of related findings in south-eastern England, these serve as a platform to consider the dynamics of aurochs extinction, which is held to have occurred in Britain by the middle–later centuries of the 2nd millennium bc.

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