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Bones will reveal life of dodo

26 June 2006

Scientists have uncovered many more bones from the dodo, the flightless bird from Mauritius that became extinct in the 1600s.

Julian Hume excavating an extinct giant tortoise.

Julian Hume excavating an extinct giant tortoise.

An international research team has been excavating the Mare aux Songes site in Mauritius, the same place rare dodo bones were uncovered in October 2005. The aim of the expedition is to reconstruct the world of the dodo before Europeans set foot on the island.

The material found is up to 3,000 years old and includes a complete articulated dodo leg as well as bones from other animals such as a giant tortoise and other extinct birds.

'The discovery is of huge importance and will give us a new understanding of how dodos lived,' explained Julian Hume, zoologist at the Natural History Museum and part of the research team. 'This is new material and it is absolutely free of human contamination.'

Julian Hume and jaw bone of a dodo. © RM Jayasena

Julian Hume and jaw bone of a dodo. © RM Jayasena

The dodo, Raphus cucullatus , became extinct in the 1600s, only 80 years after Europeans discovered it. Dodo's laid their eggs on the ground making it an easy target for introduced predators such as rats and pigs. The new human arrivals hunted the dodo but also helped destroy much of the bird's habitat, so extinction became inevitable.

Bones clues

Dodo bones have been found before but were removed from their place without recording the immediate surroundings and other bones that may be buried close by. This makes it difficult for scientists to get a full, accurate picture of a complete bird and how it lived.

Model of the extinct dodo in the Museum gallery.

Model of the extinct dodo in the Museum gallery.

We know very little about the dodo. Even basic things such as what it ate, why it had such a large hooked bill and how it looked after its young are a mystery.

The new finds will help to piece together the environment the dodo lived in and will help us understand more about how it become extinct.

Scientists hope to find the first complete articulated skeleton of an individual dodo. This will help reveal how the dodo moved around such as whether they walked with a waddle or hopped with a skip.

Further Information

External Links

  • Naturalis (National Museum of Natural History, Netherlands)