World’s Largest Birds Not Wiped Out By Madagascar's First Settlers

Posted: Sep 14 2018, 9:13am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
World’s Largest Birds Not Wiped Out by Early Settlers of Madagascar
Illustration of Elephant bird skeleton. Credit: Alain Rasolo, Wildlife Artist, Madagascar

New archaeological evidence shows that humans arrived in Madagascar more than 6,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Researchers have found new archaeological evidence that dates human habitation in Madagascar as far back as 10,500 years ago. This conclusion was reached after analyzing cut marks on the bones of the elephant bird, the largest bird ever to live on Earth. The butchered bones reveal that humans arrived in Madagascar more than 6,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Elephant birds were once widely distributed in the tropical island of Madagascar. These birds weighed more than 900 pounds and stood three meters tall. The elephant birds disappeared by about 1,000 years ago. Researchers have long debated the factors that contributed to their extinction but the exact cause is still unknown. However, first settlers are suspected to have killed off the largest birds.

Previous studies have suggested that humans arrived in Madagascar 2,400-4,000 years ago. Using radiocarbon dating, researchers once again determined the timeframe of the demise of elephant birds and reassessed when humans first reached Madagascar. The ancient bones of elephant birds have cut marks and depression fractures that show clear signs of hunting by prehistoric humans. The analysis of these bones pushes back human presence in Madagascar by at least 6000 years, suggesting that the giant bird and humans coexisted for many centuries.

“We already know that Madagascar's megafauna – elephant birds, hippos, giant tortoises and giant lemurs – became extinct less than 1,000 years ago. There are a number of theories about why this occurred, but the extent of human involvement hasn't been clear,” said Lead author Dr. James Hansford from the Zoological Society of London.

“Our research provides evidence of human activity in Madagascar more than 6,000 years earlier than previously suspected – which demonstrates that a radically different extinction theory is required to understand the huge biodiversity loss that has occurred on the island. Humans seem to have coexisted with elephant birds and other now-extinct species for over 9,000 years, apparently with limited negative impact on biodiversity for most of this period, which offers new insights for conservation today."

The elephant bird bones were originally discovered in 2009 in Christmas River in south-central Madagascar, a site that contains a treasure trove of ancient animal remains.

"This new discovery turns our idea of the first human arrivals on its head. We know that at the end of the Ice Age, when humans were only using stone tools, there were a group of humans that arrived on Madagascar,” said co-author Professor Patricia Wright from Stony Brook University. “The question remains – who these people were? And when and why did they disappear?"

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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