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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 June 2006, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Dodo skeleton find in Mauritius
Dr Hume with dodo bone (Shapiro)
Dr Hume is excited by the results so far
Scientists say they have discovered part of the skeleton of a dodo, the large, flightless bird which became extinct more than 300 years ago.

One of the team in Mauritius said it was the first discovery of fully preserved bones which could give clues as to how the bird lived its life.

Last year, the team unearthed dodo bones in the same area, but said the current find was more "significant".

The bird is thought to have been hunted to extinction by European settlers.

No complete skeleton has ever been found in Mauritius, and the last full set of bones was destroyed in a fire at a museum in Oxford, England, in 1755.

'Remarkable'

"It's a wonderful collection," said Dr Julian Hume, a research associate with London's Natural History Museum and a member of the largely Dutch-Mauritian team.

"The chances of a single (intact) bone being preserved [would be] a remarkable event; and here we have a whole collection of them," the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

Dr Hume said previous bones had been plucked out in a haphazard way, with little attention given to adjacent dodo fossils or clues about the birds' environment.

RAPHUS CUCULLATUS
Dodo, BBC
Forest-dwelling and flightless
Waded in ponds to catch fish
Killed by sailors for extra food
Ship animals stole its eggs
The find includes a complete hip and four leg bones (femur, fibula, tibiotarsus and hypotarsus). Numerous other dodo parts were also unearthed, such as skull fragments, beak bones, vertebrae, wing bones and toe bones.

Dr Hume told BBC News: "Not only have we found a cross section of the dodo environment before man but can add many of the ecological components.

"First, many of the bones are in-situ, which means that they are in original articulation. This includes the first dodo parts found in a marsh (a complete leg) and many extinct giant tortoise with beautifully preserved shells. The bone material is of exceptional quality and one may imagine that the animals died only recently."

Dr Hume said the team had also found thousands of leaves, wood, pollen, tree and shrub seeds including the famous dodo tree (Tambalacoque), plus a large number of small land snails and insect parts.

The discoveries are part of an on-going project started last year when scientists unearthed hundreds of dodo bones at Mare aux Songes in the south-east of the island.

The bones, thought to be at least 2,000 years old, included sections of beaks and the remains of dodo chicks.

The project has a number of goals:

  • A geophysical survey to identify the exact location of the fossil-bearing layers
  • Drilling wells to establish the composition and origin of the sediments containing the fossil-bearing layers
  • Excavation, sampling fossils and sediments for age-dating and fossil content
  • Taking DNA samples

Little is known about the dodo, a famous flightless bird thought to have become extinct in the 17th Century.

The dodo was mocked by Portuguese and Dutch colonialists for its size and apparent lack of fear of armed, hungry hunters.

Dodo excavation (Shapiro)
The project aims to reconstruct the dodo ecosystem
It took its name from the Portuguese word for "fool", and was hunted to extinction within 200 years of Europeans landing on Mauritius.

Mauritius was uninhabited when it was discovered by Portuguese sailors in 1598 and colonised by the Dutch.

The international multidisciplinary team assembled specially for the current expedition includes archaeologists, palaeontologists, and sedimentologists from 15 different institutes in various countries.

The project is being led by Dr Kenneth Rijsdijk of TNO B&O, Geological Survey of the Netherlands.




SEE ALSO
Scientists find 'mass dodo grave'
24 Dec 05 |  Science/Nature
Scientists pinpoint dodo's demise
20 Nov 03 |  Science/Nature
DNA yields dodo family secrets
28 Feb 02 |  Science/Nature
Bringing the dodo back to life
14 Sep 02 |  From Our Own Correspondent

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