Dodo excavation 2007

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007


Do you remember the Dodo Expeditie Weblog? They are back with back. Or I rather say, they were back with the Dodo excavation 2007, because it ended in August 19th. The expedition was documented in a blog, as the previous one, with English and Dutch. The Dutch has a link the images of the new mascot Dido.

The expedition started with a fantastic new discover in its first day, July 29:

As soon as we set foot on Mauritius we headed for an excursion into the vast system of lavatunnels on the hilly side of the island. In the shadow of Julian Hume we entered a cave where speleologists discovered a complete dodoskeleton, only a month ago. This would be the first ever discovered in the Mauritian highlands. Soon it pointed out that also we would be lucky in the catacombs. In the smal chamber where the dodoskeleton was found Julain discovered the pelvis of the extinct Mauritian owl (Mascarenotus sauzieri)! Before this moment nobody knew this part of the postcranial skeleton of this species, it simply never was found. The Mauritian owl was the size of a forest owl, but had much bigger paws to kill reptiles. A most important find. How did the dodo and the owl ended in the cave, and how did they enter? Questions that immediately came to our minds and that we hopefully can answer with future research.

Dido find an owl bone

There are more information (and images) about this last expedition on their weblog posts. Check also the links on the main page of the expedition, including the Research plan. But before, a couple of Dido images:

Dido and the bones

Dido Goodbye

More Dodo Expeditie Info

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Dodo's en reuzenschildpadden in de Mare aux Songes

It seems that the Dodo Expedition had a happy end: Discovery of lower body of Dodo, complete skeleton within reach.

Besides Dodo bones the research team recovered bones of the extinct giant tortoise (Cylindraspis) and bones of jet unidentified reptile and bird species. Also they encountered abundant seed material of endemic trees including those of the Tambalacoque (Dodo tree). A few specimens of this nearly extinct tree currently occur in the central part of Mauritius. It is therefore a great surprise that these seeds occur nearby the sea at Mare aux Songes. Mauritian and European scientists investigate how it is possible that so many bones and seeds have been so well conserved in the soil after several thousands of years and why the locality is so extremely rich in bone material.

Julian Hume found a dodo bone
The purpose of the current expedition is to reconstruct the world of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) before Western man set foot on the island of Mauritius and wiped out the species. The expedition will seek to clarify the Dodos ecotope and explain why it became extinct. The excavation in Mare aux Songes, in the south eastern tip of Mauritius will continue to the 3rd of July 2006.

The immediate reason for this expedition was the rare find on 28 October 2005 of a completely undisturbed layer of botanic remains and bones, including Dodo fossils, on the island of Mauritius. This material is up to 3000 years old. There have been previous 20th-century finds of Dodo bones on Mauritius, but no-one previously sought to study the geology or ecology of these sites. This type of research is needed to reconstruct the landscape, fauna and flora and establish whether these animals were wiped out all at once by a natural disaster. The Mascarene Islands, of which Mauritius is one, are unique in that they probably have the only Dodo-fossil sites in the world.

The expedition ended, but there are some interesting material about dodos in the site. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the English version of that part of the site and all the links goes to pages in Dutch. Doel van de expeditie talks (I think) about the expedition, the first dodo bone find in many time, in 2005, that inspired this new expedition and traces what could have been the dodo habitat.

Julian Hume dodo habitat
Reconstruction of the dodo habitat at the time of the early Dutch colonisation of Mauritius, in the 17th century, by Julian Hume, 2005

From this Naturalis page go to explore other sessions about the expedition: who participated, site explored – Mare aux Songes, the techniques used at the lad to study the bones and an informative about the dodo.

At the informative page, the session Dodo fact sheet has more information about dodos, their habitat, dodos at museums, a brief history of dodos after the Netherlands colonization, dodo DNA and a dodo skeleton compared with a Roelant Savery painting:

Savery painting - dodo skeleton

And finally the Stuur uw dodo-foto’s in contains pictures of dodo’s skeletons from other museums: American Museum of Natural History of New York and The Natural History Museum of London.

The Dodo Life of Long Ago

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Bones found recently on its home, Mauritius

A New York Times‘ article from July about the new expedition to explore Mauritius’ sites: Newfound Island Graveyard May Yield Clues to Dodo Life of Long Ago:

The origins of the dodo are mysterious. Studies on its DNA indicate that it descended from pigeons. The dodo’s closest relative was the solitaire, another extinct flightless bird that lived only on the nearby island of Rodrigues. […]

Plant-eating mammals play a major role in shaping their ecosystems. Dodos may have thinned the Mauritius forests, and some plants may have come to depend on them to spread their seeds.

With almost no fossils to study, scientists had been unable to test these ideas. Now it will be possible, thanks to the discovery of the dodo graveyard. Dr. Rijsdijk and Frans Bunnik, also of the Geological Survey of the Netherlands, found it almost by accident. […]

Based on the underlying geology of the site, Dr. Rijsdijk estimates that it is 3,000 years old. More precise dating based on carbon isotopes is now under way.

Dr. Rijsdijk said that the fossils appeared to have formed in a forest lake. A big storm may have washed the animals and plants into the lake, where their bones settled into a single layer.

“Think of it like a snapshot,” Dr. Burney of Fordham said. “You set up a big camera and photograph the landscape at a particular instance. You’ve got the dodos and the other species, all captured in a moment.”

The scientists are now studying the material more carefully. Some are looking for ancient DNA, while others will analyze the dodo bones to get clues to their diet. “We may be really be able to shine a light on the dodo’s role in the ecosystem,” Dr. Rijsdijk said. The scientists will present early findings at the University of Oxford in September and will return to Mare aux Songes in 2007.

By understanding the Mauritius ecosystem before humans arrived, they hope to find clues to the dodo’s extinction. Dodos were easy to hunt, but hunting alone probably did not wipe them out. Recent research indicates that the early Dutch settlers rarely ate dodo meat. Nor did the deforestation of the island doom the dodo. Major forest clearing did not begin until after the dodo became extinct.

BTW, use Firefox and the bug me not extension to read the article if you don’t want to create an account there.

Distressed dodo and first impressions

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Fused vertebra of a dodo

From the Dodo Expedition Weblog: Distressed dodo and first impressions, by Ranjith Jayasena and Beth Shapiro.

The Mare aux Songes excavation has resulted in an enormous amount of finds. The many bones need to be washed, photographed and catalogued. Therefore a part of the team is staying at the base processing the finds while the others are busy to get themselves dirty in the field. Today Julian went through the collection of bones uncovered by Kenneth, Frans and Pieter in the Mare aux Songes last October. Apart from dodos and tortoises the faunal assemblage proved to contain several other (extinct) species. By analysing animal bones we get to know the different species that lived at the Mare aux Songes, as well as the age and health of these animals. Among last year’s finds were two fused vertebra of a dodo. Although it is not possible to say whether the bird got this as a result of a disease or old age, we can be sure that it must have suffered.

Scientists find ‘mass dodo grave’

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

Old news (December 2005″) from BBC News: Scientists find ‘mass dodo grave’: Scientists have discovered the “beautifully preserved” bones of about 20 dodos at a dig site in Mauritius.

A team of Dutch and Mauritian scientists discovered the bones in a swampy area near a sugar plantation on the south-east of the island.

The bones were said to have been recovered from a single layer of earth, with the prospect of further excavations to come.

I think that they already started this New Dodo expedition. More about it in the previous posts: Scientists to dig up dodo data, Scientists on the hunt for how dodo died and Dodo Expeditie Weblog

Raphus Cucullatus

Dodo Expeditie Weblog

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Dodo Expeditie Weblog

Naturalis, the site of the National Museum of Natural History of Netherlands created a weblog to keep the people informed about new Dodo expedition:

Leiden, 29 May 2006 On Friday, 2 June 2006, an international research team will depart for a 32-day expedition to Mauritius. This expedition will follow up Dutch scientists major find in autumn 2005 of a unique treasure trove of exceptionally rare Dodo remains. The purpose of the current expedition is to reconstruct the world of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) before Western man set foot on the island of Mauritius and wiped out the species. The expedition will seek to clarify the Dodos ecotope and explain why it became extinct.

The blog is called Dodo Expeditie Weblog and it has almost daily updates with interesting information of what this group of international multidisciplinary team composed by geologists, palaeontologists, botanists, sedimentologists, palynologists, ancient DNA specialists and archaeologists are doing to discover Who or what killed the Dodo. I loved that and I suggest to you sign the blog as I did. Don’t worry, you can chose the English version if your Dutch is so good as mine.

In Dodoland

Scientists to dig up dodo data

Monday, June 19th, 2006

The same news of other day: Scientists to dig up dodo data by Discovery Reports Canada:

Dodobird drawing

Dutch and British researchers just announced a plan to unearth new information on the iconic bird that represents extinct animals everywhere.

Leaders of the Dodo Research Program will go to Mauritius (a remote island in the Indian Ocean) to investigate a mass grave full of remains belonging to the long-extinct flightless bird.

The article has more info about what the scientists now about the dodo and what they don’t know and, the best part, there is a link to an old video: Dodo DNA with animations and an interview! Cool!

Update: the news page and the video are no longer available.