Scientists have discovered the "beautifully preserved" bones of about 20 dodos at a dig site in Mauritius. Little is known about the dodo, a famous flightless bird thought to have become extinct in the 17th century. No complete skeleton has ever been found in Mauritius, and the last full set of bones was destroyed in a fire at a museum in Oxford, England, in 1755. Researchers believe the bones are at least 2,000-years-old, and hope to learn more about how dodos lived. A team of Dutch and Mauritian scientists discovered the bones in a swampy area near a sugar plantation on the south-east of the island.
The bones were said to have been recovered from a single layer of earth, with the prospect of further excavations to come. Sections of beaks and the remains of dodo chicks were thought to be among the find.
The discovery was hailed as a breakthrough in the Netherlands. "This new find will allow for the first scientific research into and reconstruction of the world in which the dodo lived, before western man landed on Mauritius and wiped out the species," the country's Natural History Museum announced in a statement. Dutch geologist Kenneth Rijsdijk, who led the dig, said DNA samples from the dodo bones could revolutionise understanding of how the birds lived.
The dodo was mocked by Portuguese and Dutch colonialists for its size and apparent lack of fear of armed, hungry hunters. It took its name from the Portuguese word for "fool", and was hunted to extinction within 200 years of Europeans landing on Mauritius.