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Carnyx Head, Deskford, 1st century CE and reconstruction (top image), National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 11.11.17.

The end of the age of Taurus

So, I have been pondering for a while now on the findings at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney. Link here if you aren’t aware of the archaeological dig ongoing at this significant Neolithic site. It seems that the earliest date so far found for structures has been 3300BCE, and the complex was in use for a millennium until around 2200BCE. 

Excavations of the latest dated structure, which has been described as a “neolithic cathedral” revealed the remains of around 400 cattle (aurochs - large prehistoric cattle, a bit like buffalo), more specifically the tibia bones of these animals, all seemingly slaughtered / consumed in a single event. This single event is thought to have been a part of the ritual “decommissioning” of the site as cultural shifts into the bronze age took place, which fits the chronology of changes in burial practices. 

But why 400 aurochs? Why the mass-slaughter of cattle, when surely this signified a deliberate wastage of a valuable resource for the community? 

What I have been pondering for a few years now is the use of imagery, particularly in the Middle East on significant objects. Bulls / cattle are a common motif, as are lions and rams. 

This lyre, found at Ur, is around 4500 years old. 

Copper Bulls’ Head excavated in Barbar Temple Bahrain- ancient Dilmun (ca. 3000-2000 BCE).

There are plenty of later Bull-related artefacts, and I haven’t looked closely enough at this, but many ancient cultures, such as the Babylonians and the Minoans held the bull in high regard, often elevating them to idol-status. 

Minoan bull and below, reconstructed horns at Knossos, Crete. 

Bull artefacts are prolific during (and after) the age of Taurus. Wikipedia has this to say about the various interpretations of the Age of Taurus:

Timeframes
Neil Mann interpretation: began c. 4300 BC and ended c. 2150 BC
Patrick Burlingame interpretation: began c. 4006 BC and ended c. 2006 BC
Shephard Simpson interpretation: began c. 4525 BC and ended c. 1875 BC

and of the occupation of the Ness of Brodgar:

The earliest structures were built between 3,300 and 3,200 BCE, and the site had been closed down and partly dismantled by 2,200 BCE. 

So in my mind it is not altogether unreasonable to ponder that the slaughter of aurochs on a massive scale as part of a ritual decommissioning at Ness of Brodgar could have been significant as marking the end of the Age of Taurus, and ushering in Aries (remember the biblical story of the golden calf idol told in Exodus, replaced by the symbol of the “lamb of God”?). Alongside the discovery of metal working in Britain at the time, and climate worsening, this would have been a huge cultural shift. Astrological patterns made in the stars by ancient people are a world-wide phenomenon, and trade across the ocean from Britain to Europe to the Middle East was happening at that time. A shared symbology is likely. 

Just thoughts … I’d be interested to know what @thesilicontribesman thinks? 

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Carved Deer Rock Art, 10th century CE, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 11.11.17.

Around 6 million years ago, the African and Eurasian plates moved together, cutting the Mediterranean Sea off from the Atlantic. Without an influx of water from the Atlantic, evaporation began removing more water from the Mediterranean than rivers could replace. The sea dried out almost completely over the course of a couple thousand years.

About 5.3 million years ago, the Straits of Gibraltar reopened, creating a massive flood into the Mediterranean known as the Zanclean Flood. Water rushed down the straits and into the Mediterranean at speeds as high as 40 m/s (90 mph). At its peak, the Zanclean Flood is estimated to have reached rates 1000 times greater than the volumetric flow rate of the Amazon River. 

A similar breach flood occurred in the Black Sea within the past 10,000 years when the Bosporus became unblocked. That flood likely had a devastating impact on Neolithic societies in the area and may be the inspiration for the floods described in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible. (Image credit: BBC, source)

TANYSTROPHEUS

Tanystropheus, infamous in the fossil record as a sea dweller that almost defied the laws of physics and biology. 


With a neck up 3 metres long, (that’s twice the size of an average man) containing only 10 highly elongated vertebrae, Tanystropheus remains one of the most bizarre animals to inhabit the Earth. This neck was also longer than Tanystropheus’ body and tail combined. To put it into perspective, the neck took up almost 75% of the whole body length.


To hold a neck so large off of the ground would have put huge strain on the shoulders and back, for this reason Tanystropheus is believed to have spent most of its time in the water. However the position of the legs and hips suggests that the animal could support itself on land, leading to many palaeontologists suggesting Tanystropheus was adapted to ambush hunting with its body on land and its head submerged in the water. Recent research of fossilised impressions Tanystropheus indicate the rear of the animal had greatly developed muscles shifting its centre of weight further from its neck, improving the balance of a somewhat clumsy looking animal.


Despite spending most of its time in the water, Tanystropheus wasn’t a strong swimmer, its feet were not webbed, and the neck was surprisingly stiff, as it consisted of only around 10 cervical vertebrae, movement was restricted to side to side motion.
Tanystropheus made a name for itself when it was discovered in the mid 1800’s, engineers estimated that this strange animal had the longest neck physically possible of on organism with relation to its body size. Oddly enough, Tanystropheus is a distant triassic relative to pterosaurs, dinosaurs and the modern crocodiles, yet they themselves went extinct around 205 million years ago.

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Carved Ogham Inscription on the edges of a carved Pictish and early Christian stone, national Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 11.11.17.

QUETZALCOATLUS


Quetzalcoatlus goes down in history as the largest flying organism of all time, with a wingspan of 12 metres, which is larger than some planes. Quetzalcoatlus was the undisputed king of the Late cretaceous skies, so it seems fitting that its name is derived from an Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl. Although its wingspan is impressive, Quetzalcoatlus also had a huge 2.5 metre long skull, that is the average height of an Asian elephant!
To get such a huge animal in the air, a complex system of air sacs was needed inside the bones, this meant that Quetzalcoatlus probably weighed no more than 250kg. Quetzalcoatlus, along with many pterosaurs, was originally thought to spend most of its time gliding over the oceans, skimming fish out from the surface of the water with their elongated beaks. However, due to the skull and beak morphology and the presence of fossils far inland it has become more widely accepted that Quetzalcoatlus stalked prey far below on the land. The fore and hind limb morphology of Quetzalcoatlus also suggests that they were competent walkers on the land, they would have stood up to 3 metres tall. 


The feeding habits of Quetzalcoatlus still remain something of a mystery. It was originally thought to be more of a scavenger, but the blunt beak was unsuited to stripping and picking flesh of a bony creature. It is more likely that Quetzalcoatlus hunted like modern-day storks, stalking the land from the skies above for smaller animals and then swooping down to eat them whole.

TOP 10 PREHISTORIC OCEAN PREDATORS

10. ANOMALOCARIS (~ 525 Ma)
This one metre long invertebrate surely deserves to be included on the list, being one of the first complex oceanic predators to ever have existed. Anomalocaris stalked the Cambrian oceans, viewing the world with a deadly new evolutionary innovation - eyes. Complex eyes allowed this creature to storm its way to the top of the food chain, and with powerful appendages covered in spines it had no trouble devouring prey with tough carapaces. Whilst Anomalocaris is dwarfed by the other contenders on this list, it was still over 10 times larger than any other animal of its time.

9. KRONOSAURUS (125-99 Ma)
Kronosaurus, a Cretaceous mosasaur, is named after the Greek titan, Cronus. Its name is well deserved as this ancient beast was a remarkably powerful being. Kronosaurus could reach up to 10 metres long and had a mouth full of sharp, conical teeth. Unlike most other mosasaurs its tail was relatively short, however, evidence shows that Kronosaurus has immensely powerful fins and a pectoral girdle making it an impressive swimmer and hunter.

8. HELICOPRION (290-250 Ma)
Helicoprion has astounded scientists since its discovery over 100 years ago. It is iconic for its bizarre spiral of teeth, there are still debates on where exactly these teeth where on the shark with proposals stating they were inside the mouth, on the tip of the tail, the dorsal fin or hanging under the jaw. The most commonly accepted location of the teeth is inside the lower jaw enabling Helicoprion to cleanly slice its prey into pieces.

7. XIPHACTINUS (~110-70 Ma)
Xiphactinus was an extraordinary fish that lived during the Cretaceous. It was an esteemed predator that could reach an incredible 6 metres in length and specimens are renowned for their stunning preservation. One such example was 4 metres long and found with another exceptionally well preserved fish just short of 2 metres inside it implying that this particular Xiphactinus individual died shortly after its last feast. Xiphactinus had immensely sharp, slim teeth and an unmistakable underbite which was a possible aid when snaring creatures from below.

6. TYLOSAURUS (86-75 Ma)
Tylosaurus is considered a mosasaur and was a vivacious predator all be it smaller than its relative Mosasaurus. Tylosaurus could reach up to 15 metres in length and was one of the apex predators of its day. Fossilised stomach contents of Tylosaurus contain fish, sharks, turtles and other marine reptiles. Despite having an impressive set of teeth, the frontal areas of the jaws exhibit a large reduction in tooth size as well as a more heavily reinforced snout in comparison to other mosasaurs suggesting that Tylosaurus may have rammed into victims with immense force damaging prey internally.

5. MOSASAURUS (70-66 Ma)
The mosasaurs ruled the Cretaceous oceans and Mosasaurus was no exception. It could reach up to 17 metres long, longer than most other mosasaurs. Mosasaurus had a strong jaw packed with numerous conical teeth, bite marks of which have been found in huge prehistoric turtles and ammonites suggesting that Mosasaurus was a formidable hunter capable of catching large prey. Mosasaurus was a profound swimmer with strong paddle-like limbs and a huge tail capable of rapidly accelerating the animal when required.

4. DUNKLEOSTEUS (382-358 Ma)
Dunkleosteus terrorised the oceans around 370 million years ago and was part of a dynasty known as the placoderm fish (meaning armoured). Dunkleosteus could reach a whopping 6-10 metres in length and probably weighed over a ton. The skull was made up of huge, solid bony plates giving unrivalled protection allowing them to dominate the oceans. Placoderm fish were some of the first organisms to have a mobile jaw, as can be seen in Dunkleosteus’ impressive shearing plates which were used to slice cleanly through prey. Despite an revolutionary jaw, Dunkleosteus could not chew and several fossilised regurgitated remains of its meals have been found that the giant fish simply could not stomach.  

3. DAKOSAURUS (157-137 Ma)
Dakosaurus was the largest of a group of marine reptiles that were distant relatives of crocodiles. Dakosaurus could reach up to 5 metres long and had a streamlined body with large paddle-like fins and a long muscular tail implying that is was a very efficient swimmer. The diet of Dakosaurus consisted mostly of fish. The teeth of Dakosaurus are lateromedially compressed and serrated which is a similar morphology to modern killer whales indicating that Dakosaurus was an apex predator of the Jurassic oceans. Skull fenestrae provides evidence that Dakosaurus had very large adductor muscles (which are responsible for the jaw closing) and so it was certainly capable of a forceful bite.

2. LIOPLEURODON (160-155 Ma)
Liopleurodon stormed the Jurassic oceans, its huge 7 metre long frame effortlessly cruised through the water. The skull itself could reach a massive 1.5 metres long with a jaw that was packed with teeth up to 10cm long and was capable of an immense bone-crushing force. Liopleurodon was a remarkable hunter with the ability to swim with its nostrils open and so could use its powerful sense of smell to track prey from afar, much like sharks do. Liopleurodon most likely had good camouflage such as a lighter underside and a darker topside so it would blend in with the water to prey above and below.  

1. MEGALODON (~16-2.6 Ma)
Megalodon rightfully deserves the top position of the greatest prehistoric ocean predators, ruling the seas for an incredible 14 million years. Megalodon has been estimated to reach up to 18 metres in length and weighing over 40 tonnes. Megalodon is known for its huge 6 inch teeth which were serrated on both sides for an efficient slicing action. Fossils of Megalodon’s prey have also been found, the shark appeared to have adapted its hunting tactics for different sized prey; for smaller prey they would just use their bone crushing bite to pulverise internal organs, but for larger prey they would bite or rip flippers off of creatures to immobilise them and then go in for the kill.
The exact bite force of Megalodon has been estimated at around 110,000 N which was more than enough to shatter even the most robust bones. The hunting methods of Megalodon will unfortunately remain a mystery but it was been hypothesised that they swam at great depths and used short bursts of speed to swim up and tear into their preys vulnerable underbelly.
Sharks have existed for over 420 million years and still continue to be some of the most successful predators alive, Megalodon is a perfect example of how deadly they can be.

Arctic Inuit and Native Americans carry a specific genetic adaptation for severe cold climates. It allows the body to generate heat from a specific type of body fat. This gene, from Greenland Inuits, was compared to DNA from ancient Neanderthals and Denisovians in a recent study. The results suggest that the genetic advantage came from an archaic, extinct hominid population, probably related to Denisovians.

RECORD BREAKERS

Life on earth, as magnificent and versatile as it is, is seemingly tame compared to the weird and wonderful creatures that once existed. All categories of life have reached unimaginable sizes, here are just a selection of prehistoric record breakers!

MEGALODON
The biggest shark known to have existed, ruling over the oceans as recently as up to a million years ago. A length of almost 20 metres and weighing in at an estimated 48 tonnes, Megalodon could deliver a crucifying bite of up to 110,000N. It is no surprise that the Megalodon was dubbed the “whale killing shark”.

MEGATHERIUM
Our early ancestors would have been quite familiar with Megatherium as they existed up to 8000 years ago, they were in fact the largest sloths to have existed. Sloths have a reputation as being lazy, slow and docile, but Megatherium was a 6 metre long, 4 tonne monster with a killer instinct and knife-like claws. Megatherium’s discovery came before that of the dinosaurs. Skeletons of these prehistoric beasts were a delight to the Victorian public and paved the way for the science of palaeontology.

ARCHELON
Literally meaning “large turtle”, Archelon certainly was just that. Existing during the cretaceous, the time of the dinosaurs, Archelon could reach 4.5 metres long and may have lived to over 100 years old. Archelon could not compete with other cretaceous beings in speed and agility, but its blade-like beak was able to slice through flesh and crush though the toughest ammonite shells. Unfortunately Archelon appears to have been a popular snack for other marine dwellers, skeletons are frequently missing flippers or heads and covered in slashes.

TITANOBOA
When the dinosaurs reign ended, a new era saw the rise of new super-predators, one was Titanoboa, the largest snake ever with a body up to 13 metres long, standing a metre off the ground and weighing up to 2500 pounds. Titanoboa was 30% longer than even todays largest species. Scientists believe this humongous snake hunted like its modern relatives, the boa constrictors, by winding around prey and suffocating them.

IRISH ELK
Owner of the largest antlers of any animal, up to 3 metres wide, the Irish Elk gets its name from its frequent discoveries in Irish peat bogs. Existing up to 10,000 years ago, these would have been a common sight in grasslands for our ancestors. Many fossils indicate the animals died of starvation which is why the antlers are thought to have been part of elaborate mating contests between males, often resulting in one being fatally injured and unable to feed itself.

DEINOTHERIUM
A distant relative of the elephants and mammoths, Deinotherium was more sinister, its name translates to “terrible beast”, they would have most likely caused trouble for our ancient ancestors around 1.5 million years ago. Deinotherium is actually considered to be the second largest land mammal of all time, behind Paraceratherium and is iconic in appearance due to its sharp, downward facing tusks.

ARCTODUS
Known as the short faced bear, they were the biggest bears on record and one of the largest mammal carnivores to have existed. Whilst their skull was short, they were packed with piercing teeth that could deliver a bone crushing bite. Existing up to 11,000 years ago, out ancestors would have stayed well clear of this 900 kilogram predator, with slender limbs and knife-like claws, Arctodus was deadly.

SARCOSUCHUS
One of the most infamous fossil discoveries in history, Sarcosuchus was the largest crocodile to walk the Earth up to 112 million years ago, this was a crocodile capable of killing dinosaurs. Sarcosuchus was twice as long as a saltwater crocodile, that’s 11-12 metres long and could reach over 8 tonnes. Its jaw was packed full of 66 teeth either side of its jaw and would have clamped down on prey that wandered too near.

ARGENTINOSAURUS
One of the largest lifeforms that has ever stood on the Earth, Argentinosaurus could grow up to 30 metres long with its hind limbs standing 4.5 metres off the ground. They existed between 97-94 million years ago and at adulthood would have been virtually indestructible to predators. Its weight is estimated at a staggering 80-100 tonnes. There hasn’t been another land mammal on the same scale as Argentinosaurus since and it’s unlikely there ever will be.

SPINOSAURUS
The largest discovered therapod ever, a group that includes Allosaurus and Tryrannosaurus. Spinosaurus remained an enigma to scientists for decades, the only discovered specimen was sadly destroyed during World War 2 and was not rediscovered until the 21st century. Spinosaurus is thought to have reached up to 16 metres long and weighed in around 12 tonnes, that is almost double the weight of a T-rex!

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Pictish, Celtic and Norse Influenced prehistoric artefacts from the Scottish Isles, The National Museum of Scotland, 24.2.17.