Bones of Ottoman war camel found buried in Austrian cellar
This camel skeleton was unearthed near the river Danube in Tulln, Austria. (Alfred Galik / University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna)
Published Thursday, April 2, 2015 1:14PM EDT
Archaeologists have discovered the fully intact remains of a 17th-century war camel buried in an abandoned cellar in Austria.
The skeleton is thought to be the remains of an ancient war camel brought to Austria by a soldier of the Ottoman Empire.
The skeleton was found fully intact in an abandoned cellar in Tulln, Austria, near the Danube River in 2006. Diggers came across the bones while excavating the site of a future shopping mall.
Archaeozoologist Alfred Galik says the bones appear to have belonged to a camel used as a “valuable riding animal” during the Ottoman-Habsburg wars in the late 17th century. He said the animal likely died of starvation under the care of the Tulln locals, perhaps because its owners did not know what to feed it.
“The animal was certainly exotic for the people of Tulln,” Galik said in a news release from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna. “Perhaps it died a natural death and was then buried without being used.”
Galik is the lead author of a study that revealed the findings Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
The study suggest the camel was probably left behind by Ottoman troops or handed over to the Tulln locals in a trade.
The published findings indicate the bones date back to around 1683, when Ottoman troops laid siege to Tulln during a failed campaign to capture Vienna. Galik and his team of researchers examined bits of pottery and metal found at the dig site to estimate the era when the bones were laid to rest.
It’s not unusual to find camel bones in Europe, Galik said. Conquering empires like the Romans and Ottomans often used camels in their armies, and troops would occasionally eat the camels when food became scarce.
However, this latest find is unusual because the skeleton is intact. “This meant that the animal was not killed and then butchered,” Galik said.
DNA results suggest the camel was a hybrid between the one-hump dromedary and two-hump Bactrian breeds.
“Hybrids were easier to handle, more enduring and larger than their parents,” Galik said. “These animals were especially suited for military use.”
Researchers found the camel to be a seven-year-old male that had likely been castrated.
The Ottoman Empire originated in the Middle East in 1299 and persisted in one form or another until 1923, when it dissolved in the aftermath of the First World War. At the height of its power it held large swaths of territory around the Mediterranean Sea, including parts of northern Africa, southeastern Europe and the southwestern edge of Russia.
The Ottomans halted their expansion into Europe after they failed to take Vienna in 1683.