| 3 November 2014
Surprising discovery at Ness of Brodgar
A giant-sized Neolithic Era cow found as archaeologists excavated at the famous Ness of Brodgar site in Orkney (Scotland). "It is so big that there was an immediate need for an expert opinion," reported the Dig Diary blogger for the Ness of Brodgar Excavations project. So archaeologists called upon Jen Harland, an expert at identifying faunal remains. "She has confirmed that the bones belong to an enormous cow - so big indeed that it is probably off the scale for the biggest known modern cow and into the range for an aurochs."
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.
Thus far, the animal's massive horn core has been revealed, along with part of the skull. But much more work needs to be done when the excavators return for the next season. "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," continues the blog report. "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."
Archaeologists have been excavating at this now famous Neolithic Era site ever since a geophysical survey in 2002 revealed anomalies that indicated a buried settlement complex, and then ploughing turned up a large, notched stone slab in a field in 2003. Radiocarbon dates from excavations have since shown that the site was a prehistoric complex that was used for 1,000 years - from at least 3200 BCE to 2300 BCE.
The animal remains are among the latest of a string of remarkable finds. Other discoveries have revealed a sequence of Neolithic structures, including a large oval structure enclosed by a monumental wall, a symmetrical building, and a structure measuring 25 metres (82 feet) long by 20 meters (65 feet) wide, with the remains of five-meter-thick outer walls still standing at a height of about one meter (three feet).
Edited from Popular Archaeology (14 October 2014)
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