Mystery Death Of Oxford Dodo Revealed: How Scientists Use The Specimen To Rewrite Extinct Bird’s History

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Paleontologists have finally known that the last of the dodos, which has been kept in an Oxford museum, did not die of natural causes but by a gunshot.

Researchers at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and WGM at the University of Warwick used a CT scanning technology to analyze the bird’s head and foot, the only remaining dodo soft tissue in the world.

Results of the 3D software analysis showed that the bird’s skull had particles of t’1 shot pellets that were used to hunt wildfowls in the 1700s. Scientists reported that the shot affected both the head and neck. However, the bullet did not penetrate the skull, which was later found to be very thick.

“The shot is consistent with it being very fine caliber fowling shot – the sort of shot that was used to down birds,” Prof. Paul Smith, director of Oxford University Museum of Natural History told The Guardian.

This new finding refutes the popular theory that the Oxford Dodo was kept alive in London as a “money-spinning curiosity.”

“Although the results were initially shocking, it was exciting to be able to reveal such an important part of the story in the life of the world’s most famous extinct bird. It just goes to show that when you are carrying out investigative research, you never quite know what you are going to find,” said Prof. Mark Williams, head of the Product Evaluation Technologies and Metrology Research Group at WMG, University of Warwick.

Many would know the dodo as an iconic character in Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice in Wonderland. Yet, the history of the dodo goes all the way back to the early 1600s when Dutch explorers discovered the bird in Mauritius Island in the Indian Ocean.

Experts said that the extinction of dodos is most likely due to the proliferation of rats and other animals brought by ships, which theoretically ate dodo eggs and competed for food.

Another theory suggested that the bird was hunted by Dutch explorers. However, no bones were found when scientists excavated the remains of an early Mauritian settlement.

It was only in 1796 that the extinction of dodo was known to the public through the French paleontologist Georges Cuvier. In 1848, Victorian researchers Hugh Edwin Strickland and Alexander Gordon Melville published the book The Dodo and Its Kindred.

“It’s based mostly on what they could discover from the Oxford and British Museum specimens, and it helped make dodos rather hot in the Victorian period,” said Leon Claessens, an associate professor of vertebrate paleontology and anatomy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The Oxford Dodo has been housed at Oxford University since the original Ashmolean Museum was established in the 17th century. In 1828, the British Museum received one of the earliest casts commissioned by the Ashmolean Museum keeper John Duncan.

Currently, models of the Oxford Dodo are kept in the various museums including the American Museum of Natural History, Bradford Museums and Galleries, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Canterbury Museum in New Zealand, Great North Museum Hancock, and the National Geological Repository British Geological Survey, among others.