Remarkably well preserved genetic information has been found in the fossilised eggshells of an extinct species of elephant bird from Madagascar, the biggest bird ever to walk this earth – or at least known to have existed. Resembling Big Bird from Sesame Street, the creature’s DNA was discovered by Mike Parker Pearson, professor of archaeology at the University of Sheffield in the UK. He made the discovery while on a dig in Madagascar. He says the 19,000-year-old eggs provide “an excellent source of DNA”. The technical name for the species is ‘Aepynornis’ and it is estimated to have weighted about half a ton and would have resembled an overgrown ostrich. “Parker Pearson found many of the bird’s nesting sites and some of the human settlements where the giant eggs were re-used as containers for liquids in the coastal dunes of southern Madagascar. The team radiocarbon dated the fossil eggshells and say their chemical composition can be used to shed light on past environments. This new study will enable a DNA profile to be produced, Parker Pearson says. Most of the birds appear to have died out before AD 1000, when a lost civilization emerged in the south of Madagascar, with long-distance trade contacts to Africa’s Swahili coast, the Persian Gulf and China.”
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