About 50,000 years ago, Australia was home to a flightless bird species known as Genyornis newtoni. This wasn’t a bird like you or I know them — they grew to be almost 7ft tall and weighed hundreds of pounds. Still, those formidable birds first hatched from small (relatively speaking) eggs, and those eggs were apparently tasty to humans who lived in the region. For the first time, researchers have found evidence that humans — and their appetites — drove the birds into extinction.
University of Colorado, Boulder researchers discovered what they claim is the “first and only secure evidence that humans were directly preying on now-extinct megafauna” — and that evidence comes in the form of Genyornis eggshells fragments with specific and discernible burn patterns.
The burn marks are evidence that humans were stealing and cooking up the birds’ eggs, with the researchers saying the marks are like due to limited fires humans started to cook the eggs rather than something natural like a forest fire.
Evidence to support this comes from analyzing the amino acids in the eggshells, with decomposition of those amino acids showing a gradient effect from the burnt portion to the non-burnt portion — meaning the heat was localized on the burnt portion and wasn’t all-encompassing like a wildfire would be.
Also pointing toward human involvement were the tight clusters in which the eggshells were found, small areas where the shells were likely discarded and perhaps where the eggs were cooked. As sad as it is that humans drove the creatures into extinction, it’s easy to see why humans would seek out the eggs for meals — they are estimated to have weighed about 3.5lbs each and to have been about the size of a cantaloupe.