When construction began on a new shopping center in Tulln, Austria in 2006, crews unearthed a number of archaeological finds dating back to the 17th century. Those included a coin from the time of Louis XIV, a bottle of a medieval remedy called Theriacum, and -- rather surprisingly -- a complete camel skeleton.
Scientists from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna documented their find in a new article in the journal PLOS One. They likened the exotic discovery to a sunken ship in the desert.
"The partly excavated skeleton was at first suspected to be a large horse or cattle," said archaeozoologist Alfred Galik from the Institute for Anatomy, Histology and Embryology at the university and lead author on the study. "But one look at the cervical vertebrae, the lower jaw and the metacarpal bones immediately revealed that this was a camel."
Galik and his team determined that the camel was a male around seven years of age. In their paper they described it as being of "slender stature" and likely "not a beast of burden but probably a valuable riding animal."
Uncovered in Tulln, outside Vienna, near the Danube river, the find was traced back to an Ottoman siege in the late 1600s. The nomadic Ottoman army used camels along with horses for transportation, and camel bones have been found here and there across Europe, but a complete skeleton is unique for the region.
Sometimes, Ottoman soldiers would resort to eating camels in lean times, but the fact that this one was found whole indicates that did not happen.
"It may have been acquired as part of an exchange," said Galik. "The animal was certainly exotic for the people of Tulln. They probably didn't know what to feed it or whether one could eat it. Perhaps it died a natural death and was then buried without being used."