Giant "Dodo mass grave" in Mauritius

Expedition team discovers 150 dodo bones

Dodo - Raphus cucullatus anonymous
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During an excavation in Mare aux Songes in Mauritius, researchers have discovered 150 fossil bones of the Dodo bird. They are part of a more than 4, 000 bone mass grave of the extinct vertebrate group on the island. These include the giant parrot Lophopsittacus, the giant kink or didosaurus and the red rump Aphanapteryx.

The find could facilitate the scientific exploration and reconstruction of the world of the dodo. The large flightless birds lived exclusively on Reunion and Mauritius before Europeans landed there and exterminated these animals.

Among other things, the European-Mauritian expedition team found two almost complete dodo skeletons and two partially articulated, extinct giant tortoises at the excavation site. The scientists therefore suspect that the fossil material is particularly well preserved in Mare aux Songes and, as such, is an important key to understanding the history and evolution of native flora and fauna in Mauritius. Among the discoveries of the researchers include a complete lower jaw of a dodo and unusual skull material of the extinct parrots.

In addition to identifying the material for morphological analysis, the researchers extracted bone samples, which were then analyzed using traditional DNA and mass spectrometry methods. The goal is to study DNA conservation in Mare aux Songes and to gain insight into the degradation of DNA over time - a question that is particularly explosive in humid tropical areas.

Fossil material without end

Fossil Dodo Bone © Naturalis

In addition to fossil bones, the scientists also excavated fossilized tree trunks, branches and roots, which include extinct or currently threatened species in Mauritius. To reconstruct vegetation and ecology in the Mare aux Songes area of ​​4, 000 years ago, a wood anatomical investigation method is used. Growth rings in the wood provide valuable clues to the climate in the past in the Indian Ocean region. The excavation was so successful according to the scientists and brought so much material to light that eventually lacked the resources for processing. Therefore, the excavation even had to be stopped prematurely. display

The results seem to suggest that the protected area of ​​dodofossils at Mare aux Songes is one of the world's most prolific fossil deposits on an island in the ocean.

Dehydration needed

Researchers around Dr. Beth Shapiro of Oxford University and Pennsylvania State University, in collaboration with the staff of the Mauritius Museum Council, collected additional samples from previous excavations in Mauritius to undergo DNA testing. This included a sample of the only fully complete dodoskeleton found in the Natural History Museum in Mauritius.

Excavations in Mauritius Naturalis

Further samples were taken from the recently discovered, almost completely preserved, dodoskeleton "Fred". The scientists hope that these samples, along with those excavated in Mare aux Songes, will yield high-quality DNA to understand the evolutionary and population structure of the Dodo using modern genetic techniques.

The excavation in Mauritius was made possible by the active support of the Geological Service of the Netherlands, which used a Dutch Koog drainage method there. Using this method, the scientists lowered the water level at the site and thereby released the fossil layers in situ.

(National Natural History Museum Naturalis / ots, 17.08.2007 - DLO)