Dodo skeletons found on Mauritius

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The Independent Online

Scientists in Mauritius have unearthed dodo skeletons which could explain how the flightless bird became extinct. Most theories blame hunting and the introduction of species such as rats and pigs to the Indian Ocean island in the 17th century.

The team of British and Dutch researchers made the discovery while excavating a site on a Mauritian sugar estate. The initial find includes fully preserved leg bones, a beak, wings and skull fragments. "It's a wonderful collection," said Julian Hume, of the Dodo Research Programme. "This is much more significant than previous finds. For once, we have all the pieces to put back together."

No complete skeleton has ever been found, and the last stuffed bird was in such bad shape in 1755 that the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, burned it, keeping only the beak and a foot. The team hopes it will be able to piece together the ecosystem of the dodo in the 10,000 years before it was discovered by humans. "Before, all we had were [isolated] bones and evidence from early explorers," Dr Hume said. "Now we have a context."

Little is known about the flightless bird that the first Portuguese explorers named "dodo", meaning fool. Illustrations from the logbooks of the first ships to reach Mauritius show scores of curious dodos running down the beach. The last confirmed sighting was in 1660.