Cassowary: World’s most dangerous bird raised by humans 18,000 years ago, study suggests

Territorial, aggressive and sometimes in comparison with a dinosaur in seems to be, the chicken is a stunning candidate for domestication.

Nevertheless, a brand new research of greater than 1,000 fossilized eggshell fragments, excavated from two rock shelters utilized by hunter-gatherers in New Guinea, has advised early people could have collected the eggs of the big flightless chicken earlier than they hatched after which raised the chicks to maturity. New Guinea is a big island north of Australia. The japanese half of the island is Papua New Guinea, whereas the western half varieties a part of Indonesia.

“This habits that we’re seeing is coming 1000’s of years earlier than domestication of the rooster,” mentioned lead research creator Kristina Douglass, an assistant professor of anthropology and African research at Penn State College.

“And this isn’t some small fowl, it’s a large, ornery, flightless chicken that may eviscerate you,” she mentioned in a information assertion.

The researchers mentioned that whereas a cassowary may be aggressive (a man in Florida was killed by one in 2019), it “imprints” simply — it turns into connected to the very first thing it sees after hatching. This implies it is easy to keep up and lift as much as grownup dimension.

At present, the cassowary is New Guinea’s largest vertebrate, and its feathers and bones are prized supplies for making bodily adornments and ceremonial put on. The chicken’s meat is taken into account a delicacy in New Guinea.

There are three species of cassowary, and they’re native to elements of northern Queensland, Australia, and New Guinea. Douglass thought our historic ancestors almost certainly reared the smallest species, the dwarf cassowary, that weighs round 20 kilograms (44 kilos).

The fossilized eggshells had been carbon-dated as a part of the research, and their ages ranged from 18,000 to six,000 years outdated.

People are believed to have first domesticated chickens no earlier than 9,500 years ago.
A cassowary chick is shown in a house in New Guinea.

Not for snacking

To achieve their conclusions, the researchers first studied the eggshells of dwelling birds, together with turkeys, emus and ostriches.

The insides of the eggshells change because the growing chicks get calcium from the eggshell. Utilizing high-resolution 3D photos and inspecting the within of the eggs, the researchers had been in a position to construct a mannequin of what the eggs seemed like throughout totally different phases of incubation.

We shared our meat with wolves and they became our best friends

The scientists examined their mannequin on trendy emu and ostrich eggs earlier than making use of it to the fossilized eggshell fragments present in New Guinea. The workforce discovered that many of the eggshells discovered on the websites had been all close to maturity.

“What we discovered was that a big majority of the eggshells had been harvested throughout late phases,” Douglass mentioned. “The eggshells look very late; the sample just isn’t random.”

These late-stage eggshells point out folks dwelling at these two rock shelter websites had been harvesting eggs when the cassowary embryos had totally fashioned limbs, beaks, claws and feathers, the research mentioned.

There are three species of cassowary, and they are native to parts of northern Queensland, Australia, and New Guinea.

However had been people purposefully gathering these eggs to permit them to hatch or gathering the eggs to eat? It is attainable they had been doing each, Douglass mentioned.

Consuming eggs with fully formed embryos is considered a delicacy in some elements of the world, however Douglass mentioned the analysis workforce’s evaluation advised folks had been hatching the chicks.

“We additionally checked out burning on the eggshells,” Douglass mentioned within the information launch. “There are sufficient samples of late stage eggshells that don’t present burning that we are able to say they had been hatching and never consuming them.”

Huge chicken as useful useful resource

Much less mature eggshells confirmed extra indicators of burning — suggesting that when cassowary eggs had been consumed they had been cooked and eaten when their contents had been primarily liquid.

“Within the highlands at this time folks elevate cassowary chicks to maturity, with the intention to gather feathers, and devour or commerce the birds. It’s attainable cassowaries had been additionally extremely valued prior to now, since they’re among the many largest vertebrate animals on New Guinea. Elevating cassowaries from chicks would supply a available supply of feathers and meat for an animal that’s in any other case difficult to hunt within the wild as an grownup,” she defined by way of electronic mail.

Nevertheless, there may be nonetheless a lot the researchers do not know.

To efficiently hatch and lift cassowary chicks, folks would want to know the place the nests had been, know when the eggs had been laid and take away them from the nest simply earlier than hatching. That is no straightforward feat as birds do not nest on the similar websites annually. As soon as a feminine lays the eggs, male birds take over nest obligation and do not go away for 50 days whereas incubating the eggs.

“Folks could have hunted the male after which collected the eggs. As a result of males do not go away the nest unattended additionally they do not feed a lot through the incubation interval making them extra susceptible to predators,” she mentioned.

The analysis was printed within the peer-reviewed scientific journal PNAS on Monday.

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