Australia’s Ancient Eggshells Analyzed

egg shell 1312x983CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Cambridge of Cambridge, Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado, Matthew Collins of the University of Cambridge, and an international team of researchers suggest that early Australians dined on melon-sized Genyornis eggs some 50,000 years ago, based upon an analysis of proteins extracted from mineral crystals in burned shell fragments. Miller first attempted to extract DNA from the ancient bits of eggshells, but found that genetic material had not survived in Australia’s climate. Collins explained that the team members then compared protein sequences obtained from egg fossils with the genomes of living birds. The study ruled out that the eggs could have been laid by Australia’s smaller Progura, another extinct bird related to today’s mound-building birds, based upon these protein sequences, added Beatrice Demarchi of the University of Turin. Rather, the eggs were produced by a bird that emerged prior to the lineage that gave rise to Progura. The flightless Genyornis, meanwhile, stood about six feet tall on massive legs, making it the other contender in the region for producing such large eggs. No evidence of Genyornis butchery has been uncovered, but even if humans did not hunt the birds, overexploitation of their eggs could have contributed to their extinction, Miller concluded. To read about newly discovered rock art panels that illustrate how ancient Aboriginal Australians envisioned their creation, go to “Letter from Australia: Where the World Was Born.”


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