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Biometrical Database of European Aurochs and Domestic Cattle

Bos primigenius and Bos taurus biometrical and ageing data from a number of European sites dating from the Middle Pleistocene to the Medieval period

Project Abstract

Biometrical Database of European Aurochs and Domestic Cattle


These data were collected during the course of a PhD (Wright 2013) exploring the morphological variation of the European aurochs (Bos primigenius from the Middle Pleistocene to the Medieval period. This project provided the widest ranging review of European aurochs material to date, bringing together aurochs bone and tooth biometrical and ageing information from a number of geographical areas and time periods, in order to gain a better understanding of the morphological variation of this animal, and provide a data resource which can be used in future for more geographically and temporally relevant identifications.

A number of patterns of body size and shape variation were identified including a south-north cline in body size during the Pleistocene and Early Holocene, and hints of a west-east cline during later periods. An increase in the body size of the aurochs during the Chalcolithic period in Iberia is particularly intriguing as it fits with similar patterns previously identified for other animals. A general slendering of certain postcranial bones over time has also been identified; this begins during the Pleistocene and therefore cannot be solely linked with domestication. Discussions of the results of this work can be found in Wright (2013; 2016) and Wright and Viner- Daniels (2015).

The database includes both biometrical and ageing information.

Other Contributors:

Sarah Viner-Daniels, Umberto Albarella, Martin Street, Daniel Makowiecki, Karlheinz Steppan, and Jean-Phillipe Brugal

Methodological Notes:

A specific selective recording methodology was designed for this project with the aim of recording as much of the most useful biometric and ageing information as possible in a short space of time. The protocol follows a system based on that outlined by Davis (1992) and Albarella and Davis (1996), with some modifications relevant to this project. This system is based on the identification and recording of specific zones of a number of skeletal elements. The zones recorded are generally those that include information about ageing (such as the epiphysial ends of long bones), and those that yield the most useful biometrical measurements. Biometrical information were recorded according to Von den Driesch (1976), Albarella and Payne (2005), Payne and Bull (1988) and Davis (1992). The selected measurements from each of these publications are presented in the "Measurement Definitions" document, available to download below. Toothwear was recorded according to the protocol laid out by Grant (1982). A detailed methodology is laid out in Wright (2016).

Additional details describing the measurements for these data can be found here:

Measurements were collected from a number of different sources:

  1. Specimens recorded physically by the author when visiting collections across Europe (postcranial and tooth measurements).
  2. Specimens recorded from the literature (postcranial measurements only).
  3. Specimens from the unpublished databases of other researchers (postcranial and tooth measurements).

n.b. Only postcranial measurements were collected from the literature, as the methodology used for taking tooth measurements for this project is not that laid out by von den Driesch (1976), and so is not comparable with the standard measurements presented in most publications. Anyone interested in tooth measurements from these sites should refer the relevant publications cited in the ‘Reference’ column of the excel table.

Potential Applications of Dataset:

The main aim of the publication of this database is that it will allow researchers to select geographically and chronologically suitable comparative datasets when attempting to distinguish wild and domestic cattle remains on sites across Europe. However, these datasets may also be used for many other purposes relating to the study of European cattle from the Middle Pleistocene through to the Medieval period.


These data were collected and analysed during a PhD undertaken by Elizabeth Wright, which was funded by the University of Sheffield (UK) Faculty of Arts and Humanities. A number of data collection trips were also funded by a Santander Mobility Award (University of Sheffield), a Petrie Watson Exhibition (University of Sheffield) and a Richard Stapley Educational Award.

Related Publications:

The dataset includes data from the published literature. Specimens from the published literature include references to their related publication(s).

Albarella, U. and S. Davis

Mammals and Birds from Launceston Castle, Cornwall: Decline in Status and the Rise of Agriculture. Circaea 12 (1): 1-156.

Albarella, U. and S. Payne

Neolithic pigs from Durrington Walls, Wiltshire, England: a biometrical database. Journal of Archaeological Science 32(4): 589-599.

Davis, S

A rapid recording method for recording information about animal bones from archaeological sites. AML report 19/92. London: English Heritage.

Driesch, A. von den

A Guide to the Measurements of Animal Bones Archaeological Sites. Peabody Museum Bulletin 2, Cambridge (MA).

Grant, A

The Use of Tooth Wear as a Guide to the Age of Domestic Ungulates. In Ageing and Sexing Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites, edited by B. Wilson, C. Grigson and S. Payne, pp. 91-108. British Archaeological Reports, British Series. British Archaeological Reports (BAR) British Series 109, Oxford.

Payne, S. and G. Bull

Components of Variation in Measurements of Pig Bones and Teeth, and the Use of Measurements to Distinguish Wild from Domestic Pig Remains. Archaeozoologia 2:27- 66.

Wright, E.

The history of the European aurochs (Bos primigenius) from the Middle Pleistocene to its extinction: an archaeological investigation of its evolution, morphological variability and response to human exploitation. PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield.

Wright, E.

The morphological variability of the European aurochs from the Middle Pleistocene to its extinction: a zooarchaeological study. British Archaeological Reports International Series 2815

Wright, E. and S. Viner-Daniels

Geographical variation in the size and shape of the European aurochs (Bos primigenius). Journal of Archaeological Science54:8-22

Banner Image Credits
Image from "Aurochs, horses, and deer" (from Lascaux), by "Prof Saxx" via the (Creative Commons Attribution-Share-alike License)
Descriptive Attribute Value(s)
Vocabulary: DCMI Metadata Terms (Dublin Core Terms)
Vocabulary: DCMI Metadata Terms (Dublin Core Terms)
Elizabeth Wright info
Vocabulary: Biometrical Database of European Aurochs and Domestic Cattle
Vocabulary: DCMI Metadata Terms (Dublin Core Terms)
Suggested Citation

Elizabeth Wright, Umberto Albarella, Martin Street, Daniel Makowiecki, Karlheinz Steppan, Jean-Phillipe Brugal, Sarah Viner-Daniels. (2016) "Biometrical Database of European Aurochs and Domestic Cattle". Released: 2016-04-03. Open Context. <> DOI:

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