SCIENCE

Ancient Humans Pushed 500 Pound Bird To Extinction By Eating Its Eggs

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Jan, 31, 2016, 02:24 PM
Tags : science
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Ancient Humans
(Photo : Getty Images/Andreas Rentz) A new study has found that humans used to eat the eggs of a gargantuan flightless bird that was eventually pushed to extinction.

A new study has found that humans used to eat the eggs of a gargantuan flightless bird that was eventually pushed to extinction.

A team of Australian and American scientists analyzed the burn patterns on a series of eggshell fragments, writes Christian Science Monitor.

When alive, the gigantic bird -- called Genyornis newtoni -- weighed roughly 500 pounds and reached heights of seven feet. Scientists believe its eggs would have been the same size as cantaloupes - weighing close to 3.5 pounds. The birds were part of a group of giant animals known as megafauna.

Other examples include an ancient kangaroo weighing 1,000 pounds and a wombat the size of a standard car. However, their size proved no match for the presence of humans - scientists estimate that 85 per cent of these animals became extinct after humans showed up.

The study is the first to establish a link between humans and the extinction of Australia's gigantic megafauna.

"We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly preying on now-extinct Australian megafauna," Gifford Miller, a geology professor at University of Colorado, Boulder said in a news release.

Many theories concluded that Australian megafauna species underwent a mass extinction due to a cataclysmic climate event. However, the continental drying that occurred about 40,000-60,000 years ago was not as bad as an earlier climate shift that occurred during the Pleistocene period.

Megafauna survived climate change during the Pleistocene period, so scientists believe that climate change is not a likely explanation for their demise.

"The lack of clear evidence regarding human predation on the Australia megafauna had, until now, been used to suggest no human-megafauna interactions occurred," says Professor Miller, "despite evidence that most of the giant animals still roamed Australia when humans colonized the continent."

The period in which humans arrived in Australia is still unknown, but scientists believe that the earliest settlers journeyed from Indonesia and landed on the continent's northern coast. By 47,000 years ago humans had spread across the continent.

To establish a link between humans and the Genyornis, the scientists looked at eggshells collected from its sand dune nesting sites. They established the age of the eggshells by using a technique known as optically stimulated luminescence dating. The method involves examining the quartz grains in the eggshells to establish when they had last been exposed to sunlight. The eggshells were dated to between 44,000 and 54,000 years old.

In 200 of the 2,000 egg sites sampled by the scientists, they found that the eggshells had been burned and were blackened.

Scientists studied the amino acid decomposition of the eggshells in order to determine what kind of fire they had been exposed to. They found that the eggs were not uniformly burned - rather, they were more burnt on one side, compared to the other. This indicates that the eggs had been roasted over a cooking fire instead of a wild fire.

The eggshell fragments were also buried in tight clusters - and showed signs of being cooked in fires of up to 1,000 Fahrenheit, a temperature much higher than those occurring in a natural bush fire.

The researchers were unable to establish a natural scenario that would result in the blackening of the eggshell.

"We instead argue that the conditions are consistent with early humans harvesting Genyornis eggs, cooking them over fires, and then randomly discarding the eggshell fragments in and around their cooking fires," Miller said in a news release.

The study was published Friday in the journal Nature Communications.

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