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Hitler's Jurassic Monsters

17 June 2014

Aurochs, a now extinct breed of wild cattle

Aurochs, a now extinct breed of wild cattle

Senior Lecture in Modern European history Dr Toby Thacker and Reader in Bio-archaeology Dr Jacqui Mulville of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion feature in the documentary, revealing the untold story of a Nazi vision which went far beyond the military conquest of European countries.

As part of their dream to create a thousand-year Reich the Nazis developed detailed blueprints for Aryan settlements and vast hunting parks for ‘Aryan’ animals.

Goering and Himmler employed Germany’s best scientists to launch a hugely ambitious programme of genetic manipulation to change the course of nature itself, both in the wild and for domestic use. This included an attempt to recreate the Aurochs, a now extinct breed of wild cattle that stood over two metres tall.
In a blend of politics and biology, Hitler's Jurassic Monsters is the story of how the Nazis tried to take control of nature and change the course of evolution.

Reader in Bioarchaeology at Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Dr Jacqui Mulville explains more: ‘The attempts at reverse-engineering by the Heck brothers indicate the wider human interest in extinct animals and how difficult it is to turn back time’. 

Dr Mulville sets the scene in the modern context: ‘As someone who studies the relationships between humans and animals in both the distant and recent past this tale of back breeding is fascinating.  Humans have adapted animals to their own needs and desires for thousands of years; firstly domesticating wolves to become dogs and then later changing the wild aurochs into our domestic cattle.  Aurochs are found in many prehistoric sites across Europe, but once domestic cattle were introduced from about seven thousand years ago they became less common and were eventually hunted to extinction’.

‘The Aurochs, thanks to bad press from Julius Caesar no less, had a reputation for savagery and it was this, as well as symbolism of an earlier time when 'Germania' existed, that the Heck brothers  recreated cattle came to portray. The fact that the Aurochs, like many other bovids, was likely to be docile unless provoked was never considered’.

‘Today we continue to return to nature by reintroducing extinct species, for example with the release of the beavers into Scotland and discussions on the release of wolves.  Additionally the adoption of animals by a particular political group demonstrates the symbolic role that animals play in our lives, other examples could include the English Lion or the Welsh Dragon’ she concludes.  

Senior Lecture in Modern European History at Cardiff, Dr Toby Thacker adds to the debate, shedding light on the importance of hunting in Nazi ideology and how the programme to try to recreate long extinct wild animals tied in with the Nazi belief that they were descended from ancient Germanic tribes.

Hitler’s Jurassic Monsters premieres on National Geographic Channel tonight [17 June] at 8pm.