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Archive for the ‘neolithic’ Category

This rich archaeological landscape offers a wealth of prehistoric temples, Neolithic harvest hills for fertility rituals and communal tombs. Visit mysterious Silbury Hill, Europe’s largest artificial mound, the Neolithic communal tomb of West Kennet Long Barrow, Old Sarum, Overton Hill Sanctuary, Avebury, Britain’s largest henge and Stonehenge. These tours depart from Bath but can be organised from Salisbury or even London

At Wessex Guided Tours we aim to provide the best planned, best led and altogether the most fulfilling and enjoyable archaeological tours available.  Our private day excursions offer the best opportunity to explore and experience some of Britain’s most iconic and significant ancient sites, guided by our archaeologist guides.

We specialise in archaeology tours, and as a result we believe we offer an excellent Stonehenge Access Toursspecialist service.

Private Tours:

Our itineraries are original, imaginative, well-paced and carefully balanced. Knowledge of the subject matter and the destinations combine with detailed attention to practical matters to ensure an enriching and smooth-running experience.

If you are travelling as a small group, you can design your own day trip or simply select one of our regular itineraries but have exclusive use of the vehicle for the day. We will collect you from any location within central London, Bath or Salisbury. The duration of your vehicle hire is 8-10 hours depending on the places that you are visiting and traffic conditions on the day.

Our most popular tours include:

Stonehenge, Bath and Avebury Archaeologist Guided Tour: Walk the paths of ritual specialists and builders of Britain’s most fascinating and awe-inspiring prehistoric sites.

Stonehenge, Salisbury and Avebury Archaeologist Guided Tour: Walk the paths of ritual specialists and builders of Britain’s most fascinating and awe-inspiring prehistoric sites. Britain’s most beautiful landscapes. Visit one of England’s most impressive Cathedrals at Salisbury.

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A planning application has been submitted to the local authority in Wiltshire to build a modern burial mound.

Developer Tim Daw  wants to construct a new “long barrow” mound near All Cannings to give people another place to leave cremated remains.

The monument is planned for land near Cannings Cross Farm near Devizes

The monument is planned for land near Cannings Cross Farm near Devizes

The ancient tradition of burying the remains of the dead within earth mounds dates to the early Neolithic period.
Mr Daw said his plan is for “a modern interpretation” of a long barrow.

Wiltshire is home to a number of long barrows, including one at West Kennett a few miles from where Mr Daw is planning his monument on land near Cannings Cross Farm.

Mr Daw said the boat-shaped structure will be made partly from sarsen stone, and will span “about the length of three buses”.

The interior will be made up of seven chambers within which box-shaped niches will be formed on up to four shelves.

Winter solstice
Each niche will be separated from the next and sealed with a lockable door.

Depending on the size of the vessel containing the cremated remains, each niche will provide storage for between six and eight containers for a family group.

Mr Daw said the monument will also be built to align directly with the sunrise of the winter solstice.

He said: “The sun rise will come up through the hills and shine right down through the length of the long barrow to the end of the passage way.”

Wiltshire Council is expected to decide on the planning application in mid-October.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-23867760

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With the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge, equally remarkable Avebury and the mighty Iron Age hill fort of Old Sarum, there really is plenty for the whole family to enjoy on a day out in Wiltshire. Discover the secrets of this seemingly ‘sacred landscape’ or get away from it all and explore a romantic ruined castle.

Please note English Heritage have now switched to our winter opening hours, meaning that while many properties are open at weekends, there may be restricted access during the week. Please check opening times before travelling.

PLACES TO VISIT : WILTSHIRE (ENGLISH HERITAGE)

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Visit Stonehenge! Sun worship temple? Healing centre? Huge calendar? How did they carry the great stones so far and build this amazing structure using only basic tools?

Old Sarum

Old Sarum

Site of the original Salisbury, this mighty Iron Age hill fort was where the first cathedral once stood and the Romans, Normans and Saxons have all left their mark during 5000 years of history.

Old Wardour Castle

Old Wardour Castle

Set in landscaped grounds beside a lake in peaceful Wiltshire countryside, these 14th century ruins provide a relaxed, romantic day out for couples, families and budding historians alike.

Avebury

Avebury

With its huge circular bank and ditch and inner circle of great standing stones, covering an area of over 28 acres, Avebury forms one of the most impressive prehistoric sites in Britain

Hatfield Earthworks (Marden Henge)

Hatfield Earthworks (Marden Henge)

The earthworks of a Neolithic henge and monumental mound, by a loop in the River Avon. Recent archaeological find of building equivalent to a priest’s quarters.

Woodhenge

Woodhenge

Dating from about 2300 BC, markers now replace rings of timber posts, which once possibly supported a ring-shaped building. Discovered in 1925 when rings of dark spots were noticed in a crop of wheat.

 

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Long before the Egyptians began the pyramids, Neolithic man built a vast temple complex at the top of what is now Scotland. Robin McKie visits the astonishing Ness of Brodgar

Circle of life: the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle, or henge – is a World Heritage Site. Photograph: Adam Stanford

Circle of life: the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle, or henge – is a World Heritage Site. Photograph: Adam Stanford

Drive west from Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall, and then head north on the narrow B9055 and you will reach a single stone monolith that guards the entrance to a spit of land known as the Ness of Brodgar. The promontory separates the island’s two largest bodies of freshwater, the Loch of Stenness and the  Loch of Harray. At their furthest edges, the lochs’ peaty brown water laps against fields and hills that form a natural amphitheatre;  a landscape peppered with giant rings of stone, chambered cairns, ancient villages and other archaeological riches.

This is the heartland of the Neolithic North, a bleak, mysterious place that has made  Orkney a magnet for archaeologists, historians and other researchers. For decades they  have tramped the island measuring and ex- cavating its great Stone Age sites. The land was surveyed, mapped and known until a recent chance discovery revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all  others on Orkney – and in the rest of Europe.

This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine,” says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. “In fact the place is entirely manmade, although  it covers more than six acres of land.”

Once protected by two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high, the complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

The people of the Neolithic – the new Stone Age – were the first farmers in Britain, and they arrived on Orkney about 6,000 years ago. They cultivated the land, built farmsteads and rapidly established a vibrant culture, erecting giant stone circles, chambered communal tombs – and a giant complex of buildings at the Ness  of Brodgar. The religious beliefs that underpinned these vast works is unknown, however, as is the purpose of the Brodgar temples.

“This wasn’t a settlement or a place for the living,” says archaeologist Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University, who excavated the nearby Barnhouse settlement  in the 1980s. “This was a ceremonial centre, and a vast one at that. But the religious beliefs of its builders remain a mystery.”

What is clear is that the cultural energy of the few thousand farming folk of Orkney dwarfed those of other civilisations at that time. In size and sophistication, the Ness of Brodgar is comparable with Stonehenge or the wonders of ancient Egypt. Yet the temple complex predates them all. The fact that this great stately edifice was constructed on Orkney, an island that has become a byword for remoteness, makes the site’s discovery all the more remarkable. For many archaeologists, its discovery has revolutionised our understanding of ancient Britain.

“We need to turn the map of Britain upside down when we consider the Neolithic and shrug off our south-centric attitudes,” says Card, now Brodgar’s director of excavations. “London may be the cultural hub of Britain today, but 5,000 years ago, Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time.”

It is a view shared by local historian Tom Muir, of the Orkney Museum. “The whole text book of British archaeology for this period will have to be torn up and rewritten from scratch thanks to this place,” he says.

 

Farmers first reached Orkney on boats that took them across the narrow – but treacherously dangerous – Pentland Firth from mainland Scotland. These were the people of the New Stone Age, and they brought cattle, pigs and sheep with them, as well as grain to plant and ploughs to till the land. The few hunter-gatherers already living on Orkney were replaced and farmsteads were established across the archipelago. These early farmers were clearly successful, though life would still have been precarious, with hunting providing precious supplies of extra protein. At the village of Knap o’Howar on Papay the bones of domesticated cattle, sheep and pigs have been found alongside those of wild deer, whales and seals, for example, while analysis of human bones from the period suggest that few people reached the age of 50. Those who survived childhood usually died in their 30s.

Discarded stone tools and shards of elegant pottery also indicate that the early Orcadians were developing an increasingly sophisticated society. Over the centuries, their small farming communities coalesced into larger tribal units, possibly with an elite ruling class, and they began to construct bigger and bigger monuments. These sites included the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae; the giant chambered grave of Maeshowe, a Stone Age mausoleum whose internal walls were later carved with runes by Vikings; and the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, two huge neighbouring circles of standing stones. These are some of the finest Neolithic monuments in the world, and in 1999 they were given World Heritage status by Unesco, an act that led directly to the discovery of the Ness of Brodgar.

“Being given World Heritage status meant we had to think about the land surrounding the sites,” says Card. “We decided to carry out geophysical surveys to see what else might be found there.” Such surveys involve the use of magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint manmade artefacts hidden underground. And the first place selected by Card  for this electromagnetic investigation was the Ness of Brodgar.

The ridge was assumed to be natural. However, Card’s magnetometers showed that it was entirely manmade and bristled with features that included lines of walls, concentric pathways and outlines of large buildings.  “The density of these features stunned us,”  says Card. At first, given its size, the team assumed they had stumbled on a general site  that had been in continuous use for some  time, providing shelter for people for most  of Orkney’s history, from prehistoric to  medieval times. “No other interpretation seemed to fit the observations,” adds Card. But once more the Ness of Brodgar would confound expectations.

Test pits, a metre square across, were drilled in lines across the ridge and revealed elaborate walls, slabs of carefully carved rock, and pieces of pottery. None came from the Bronze Age, however, nor from the Viking era or medieval times. Dozens of pits were dug over the ridge, an area the size of five football pitches, and every one revealed items with  a Neolithic background.

Then the digging began in earnest and quickly revealed the remains of buildings of startling sophistication. Carefully made pathways surrounded walls – some of them several metres high – that had been constructed with patience and precision.

“It was absolutely stunning,” says Colin Richards. “The walls were dead straight. Little slithers of stones had even been slipped between the main slabs to keep the facing perfect. This quality of workmanship would not be seen again on Orkney for thousands of years.”

 

Slowly the shape and dimensions of  the Ness of Brodgar site revealed themselves. Two great walls, several metres high, had been built straight across the ridge. There was no way you could pass along the Ness without going through the complex. Within those walls  a series of temples had been built, many on top of older ones. “The place seems to have been in use for a thousand years, with building going on all the time,” says Card.

More than a dozen of these temples have already been uncovered though only about 10% of  the site has been fully excavated so far.

“We have never seen anything like this before,” says York University archaeologist Professor Mark Edmonds. “The density of the archaeology, the scale of the buildings and the skill that was used to construct them are simply phenomenal. There are very few dry-stone walls on Orkney today that could match the ones we have uncovered here. Yet they are more than 5,000 years old in places, still standing a couple of metres high. This was a place that was meant to impress – and it still does.”

But it is not just the dimensions that have surprised and delighted archaeologists. Two years ago, their excavations revealed that  haematite-based pigments had been used to  paint external walls – another transformation  in our thinking about the Stone Age. “We see Neolithic remains after they have been bleached out and eroded,” says Edmonds. “However, it is now clear from Brodgar that buildings could have been perfectly cheerful and colourful.”

The men and women who built at the Ness also used red and yellow sandstone to enliven their constructions. (More than 3,000 years later, their successors used the same materials when building St Magnus’ Cathedral in  Kirkwall.) But what was the purpose of their construction work and why put it in the Ness of Brodgar? Of the two questions, the latter is the easier to answer – for the Brodgar headland  is clearly special. “When you stand here, you find yourself in a glorious landscape,” says Card. “You are in the middle of a natural amphitheatre created by the hills around you.”

The surrounding hills are relatively low, and a great dome of sky hangs over Brodgar, perfect for watching the setting and rising of the sun, moon and other celestial objects. (Card believes the weather on Orkney may have been warmer and clearer 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.) Cosmology would have been critical to society then, he argues, helping farmers predict the seasons –  a point supported by scientists such as the late Alexander Thom, who believed that the Ring of Brodgar was an observatory designed for studying the movement of the moon.

These outposts of Neolithic astronomy, although impressive, were nevertheless  peripheral, says Richards. The temple complex at the Ness of Brodgar was built to be the most important construction on the island. “The stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the other features  of the landscape were really just adjuncts to that great edifice,” he says. Or as another archaeologist put it: “By comparison, everything else  in the area looks like a shanty town.”

For a farming community of a few thousand people to create such edifices suggests that the Ness of Brodgar was of profound importance. Yet its purpose remains elusive. The ritual purification of the dead by fire may be involved, suggests Card. As he points out, several of the temples at Brodgar have hearths, though this was clearly not a domestic dwelling. In addition, archeologists have found that many of the stone mace heads (hard, polished, holed stones) that litter the site had been broken in two in exactly the same place. “We have found evidence of this at other sites,” says Richards. “It may be that relatives broke them  in two at a funeral, leaving one  part with the dead and one with family as a memorial to the dead. This was a place concerned with death and the deceased, I believe.”

Equally puzzling was the fate of the complex. Around 2,300BC, roughly a thousand years after construction began there, the place was abruptly abandoned. Radiocarbon dating of animal bones suggests that a huge feast ceremony was held, with more than 600 cattle slaughtered, after which the site appears to have been decommissioned. Perhaps a transfer of power took place or a new religion replaced the old one. Whatever the reason, the great temple complex – on which Orcadians had lavished almost a millennium’s effort – was abandoned and forgotten for the next 4,000 years.
Full Article by Robin McKie – The Observer,            

For more information or to donate to the dig, go to orkneyarchaeologysociety.org.uk

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The people who built Stonehenge 5000 years ago probably had the same pallid complexion of many modern inhabitants of the UK. Now it seems that the humans occupying Britain and mainland Europe only lost the darker skins of their African ancestors perhaps just 6000 years earlier, long after Neanderthals had died out. The finding confirms that modern Europeans didn’t gain their pale skin from Neanderthals – adding to evidence suggesting that European Homo sapiens and Neanderthals generally kept their relationships strictly platonic.

There is a clear correlation between latitude and skin pigmentation: peoples that have spent an extended period of time at higher latitudes have adapted to those conditions by losing the skin pigmentation that is common at lower latitudes, says Sandra Beleza at the University of Porto in Portugal. Lighter skin can generate more vitamin D from sunlight than darker skin, making the adaptation an important one for humans who wandered away from equatorial regions.

Those wanderings took modern humans into Europe around 45,000 years ago – but exactly when the European skin adapted to local conditions had been unclear.

Three genes

Beleza and her colleagues studied three genes associated with lighter skin pigmentation. Although the genes are found in all human populations, they are far more common in Europe than in Africa, and explain a significant portion of the skin-colour differences between European and west African populations.

By analysing the genomes of 50 people with European ancestry and 70 people with sub-Saharan African ancestry, Beleza’s team could estimate when the three genes – and pale skin – first became widespread in European populations. The result suggested that the three genes associated with paler skin swept through the European population only 11,000 to 19,000 years ago.

“The selective sweeps for favoured European [versions of the three genes] started well after the first migrations of modern humans into Europe,” says Beleza.

The finding agrees with earlier studies suggesting that modern humans did not lose their dark skins immediately on reaching Europe, says Katerina Harvati at the University of Tübingen in Germany. “[The new study] is interesting because it suggests a very late differentiation of skin pigmentation among modern humans,” she says.

An earlier analysis of ancient DNA in 40,000 and 50,000-year-old Neanderthal bones, respectively from Spain and Italy, suggested that our extinct cousins had light-coloured skin and reddish hair in their European heartland. But the Neanderthals went extinct around 28,000 years ago – long before modern humans in Europe gained a pale skin. Evidently Neanderthals did not pass these useful local adaptations on to modern humans, despite genetic evidence that the two species interbred.

Middle Eastern contact

That might seem unusual given that the two species lived cheek-by-jowl in Europe for several thousand years. But it makes sense if the interbreeding evident in the genes occurred in the Middle East, where modern humans and Neanderthals first met, says Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum, London.

In that region, Neanderthals may have had darker skins, explaining why our species did not gain a pale skin after interbreeding with them. Indeed, a study earlier this year of ancient DNA suggested that Neanderthals living in what is now Croatia had dark skin and brown hair.

“Neanderthal skin colour was probably variable, as might be expected for a large population spread out over a large territorial expanse,” says Harvati.

Journal reference: Molecular Biology and Evolution, doi.org/h9h
Source: http://www.newscientist.com

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Archaeologists have unearthed a charred stone that suggests the Mediterranean diet came to these islands during the Iron Age

Professor Mike Fulford at the dig in Silchester. The latest find is an olive stone that dates back to Iron Age Britain. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Professor Mike Fulford at the dig in Silchester. The latest find is an olive stone that dates back to Iron Age Britain. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Iron Age Britons were importing olives from the Mediterranean a century before the Romans arrived with their exotic tastes in food, say archaeologists who have discovered a single olive stone from an excavation of an Iron Age well at at Silchester in Hampshire.

The stone came from a layer securely dated to the first century BC, making it the earliest ever found in Britain – but since nobody ever went to the trouble of importing one olive, there must be more, rotted beyond recognition or still buried.

The stone, combined with earlier finds of seasoning herbs such as coriander, dill and celery, all previously believed to have arrived with the Romans, suggests a diet at Silchester that would be familiar in any high street pizza restaurant.

The excavators, led by Professor Mike Fulford of Reading University, also found another more poignant luxury import: the skeleton of a tiny dog, no bigger than a modern toy poodle, carefully buried, curled up as if in sleep. However it may not have met a peaceful end.

“It was fully grown, two or three years old, and thankfully showed no signs of butchery, so it wasn’t a luxury food or killed for its fur,” Fulford said. “But it was found in the foundations of a very big house we are still uncovering – 50 metres long at least – so we believe it may turn out to be the biggest Iron Age building in Britain, which must have belonged to a chief or a sub chief, a very big cheese in the town. And whether this little dog conveniently died just at the right time to be popped into the foundations, or whether it was killed as a high status offering, we cannot tell.

“The survival of the olive stone, which was partly charred, was a freak of preservation. But there must be more; we need to dig a lot more wells.”

Fulford has been leading the annual summer excavations at Silchester, which bring together hundreds of student, volunteer and professional archaeologists, for half a lifetime, and the site continues to throw up surprises. It was an important Roman town, but deliberately abandoned in the 7th century, its wells blocked up and its buildings tumbled, and never reoccupied. Apart from a few Victorian farm buildings, it is still open farmland, surrounded by the jagged remains of massive Roman walls.

Fulford now believes that the town was at its height a century before the Roman invasion in 43AD, with regularly planned, paved streets, drainage, shops, houses and workshops, trading across the continent for luxury imports of food, household goods and jewellery, enjoying a lifestyle in Britain that, previously, was believed to have arrived with the Romans.

This sodden summer have driven the archaeologists to despair, with the site a swamp of deep mud and water bubbling up in every hole and trench.

“Conditions are the worst I can ever remember. Ironically, the wells are the easiest to work in because we have the pumps running there,” Fulford said.

The tiny dog is one of dozens that the team has excavated here over the years, including one that was buried standing up as if on guard for 2,000 years. A unique knife with a startlingly realistic carving of two dogs mating was another of the spectacular finds from one of the most enigmatic sites in the country.

Visitors can observe the archaeologists’ trench warfare this weekend, when the site opens to the public as part of the national festival of archaeology, one of thousands of events across the country.

Article by: Maev Kennedy guardian.co.uk,
Full Story: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/19/olive-stone-pre-roman-britain

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Around 8,000 years ago, prehistoric hunters killed an aurochs and their grilling techniques were frozen in time.

THE GIST

Remains of a butchered and cooked female aurochs (a prehistoric cow) have been identified from a Stone Age Netherlands site.
The hunters appear to have cooked the meat over an open fire, eating the bone marrow first and then the ribs.
Aurochs hunting was common at the site for many years, but humans drove the large horned animals to extinction

aurochs bones AmesburyStone Age barbecue consumers first went for the bone marrow and then for the ribs, suggest the leftovers of an outdoor 7,700-year-old meaty feast described in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The remains, found in the valley of the River Tjonger, Netherlands, provide direct evidence for a prehistoric hunting, butchering, cooking and feasting event. The meal occurred more than 1,000 years before the first farmers with domestic cattle arrived in the region.

Although basic BBQ technology hasn’t changed much over the millennia, this prehistoric meal centered around the flesh of an aurochs, a wild Eurasian ox that was larger than today’s cows. It sported distinctive curved horns.

Another big difference is how meat was obtained then.

NEWS: Mammoths Roasted in Prehistoric Kitchen Pit

“The animal was either caught in a pitfall trap and then clubbed on the head, or shot with a bow and arrow with flint point,” co-author Wietske Prummel, an associate professor of archaeozoology at the University of Groningen, told Discovery News.

Prummel and colleague Marcel Niekus pieced together what happened by studying an unearthed flint blade found near aurochs bones. These show that after the female aurochs was killed, hunters cut its legs off and sucked out the marrow.

According to the study, the individuals skinned the animal and butchered it, reserving the skin and large hunks of meat for carrying back to a nearby settlement. Chop marks left behind by the flint blade show how the meat was meticulously separated from the bones and removed.

Burn marks reveal that the hunters cooked the meaty ribs, and probably other smaller parts, over an open fire. They ate them right at the site, “their reward for the successful kill,” Prummel said.

The blade, perhaps worn down from so much cutting, was left behind and wound up slightly scorched in the cooking fire.

Niekus told Discovery News, “The people who killed the animal lived during the Late Mesolithic (the latter part of the middle Stone Age). They were hunter-gatherers and hunting game was an important part of their subsistence activities.”

The researchers suspect these people lived in large settlements and frequented the Tjonger location for aurochs hunting. After the Iron Age, the area was only sparsely inhabited — probably due to the region becoming temporarily waterlogged — until the Late Medieval period.

NEWS: Pre-Stonehenge Megaliths Linked to Death Rituals

Aurochs must have been good eats for Stone Age human meat lovers, since other prehistoric evidence also points to hunting, butchering and feasting on these animals. A few German sites have yielded aurochs bones next to flint tool artifacts.

Aurochs bones have also been excavated at early dwellings throughout Europe. Bones for red deer, roe deer, wild boar and elk were even more common, perhaps because the aurochs was such a large, imposing animal and the hunters weren’t always successful at killing it.

At a Mesolithic site in Onnarp, Sweden, for example, scientists found the remains of aurochs that had been shot with arrows. The wounded animals escaped their pursuers before later dying in a swamp.

The aurochs couldn’t escape extinction, though.

“It became extinct due to the destruction of the habitat of the aurochs since the arrival of the first farmers in Europe about 7500 years ago,” Prummel said. “These farmers used the area inhabited by aurochs for their dwellings, arable fields and meadows. The aurochs gradually lost suitable habitat.”

The last aurochs died in 1627 at a zoo in Poland.

Source: http://news.discovery.com/history/ancient-barbeque-aurochs-110627.html

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