The first direct evidence that humans played a substantial role in the extinction of the huge, wondrous beasts inhabiting Australia some 50,000 years ago—in this case a 500-pound bird—has been discovered by a University of Colorado Boulder-led team.
The flightless bird, known as Genyornis newtoni, was nearly 7 feet tall and appears to have lived in much of Australia prior to the establishment of humans on the continent 50,000 years ago, said CU-Boulder Professor Gifford Miller. The evidence consists of diagnostic burn patterns on Genyornis eggshell fragments that indicate humans were collecting and cooking its eggs, thereby reducing the birds’ reproductive success.
“We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly preying on now-extinct Australian megafauna,” said Miller, associate director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “We have documented these characteristically burned Genyornis eggshells at more than 200 sites across the continent.”
Miller's coauthors include Scott Lehman, Christopher Florian, and Stephen DeVogel of CU-Boulder; John Magee of the Australian National University; and researchers from seven other Australian institutions.
A paper on the subject appeared online Jan. 29 in Nature Communications.