The dangerous bird may have been a faithful companion and life-threatening weapon for thousands of years.
A study of more than 1,000 fossil eggshells found in New Guinea gives strong indications that the cassowary bird was used as pets. It was previously believed that humans kept chickens as pets 9,500 years ago. Now the study shows that cassowaries were domesticated long before chickens. Eggshells were found in two caves used by collectors and hunters from 6000 to 18,000 years ago.
Using high-resolution 3D scanners, the researchers investigated the stages of development at which the eggs were opened, write CNN and NY Times, among others. They found that the vast majority of eggs were opened late in development, when chickens are fully developed, and not early when plum and white are edible. The results indicate that the people in the cave collected the eggs when they were incubated for so long that the embryo was almost fully developed.
Some of the shells had burn marks on the skulls, while others showed no signs of cooking.
Associate Professor Christina Douglas at Penn State University says there are enough eggshells with no burn marks so we can see their hatchlings and they haven’t been eaten. She is the lead author The study was published in the research journal PNAS.
The behavior we’ve seen happened thousands of years before humans tamed chickens, she says.
The reason these birds are considered the most dangerous birds in the world is the dagger-like claw, which is 10 cm long, which grows on each foot. Fierce and territorial birds use claws to defend by kicking opponents. In 2019, a man was killed in Florida by such a bird (CNN).
But the birds are also very loyal to the first one they attach to, which is often the first individual they meet, after hatching from their egg.
There are three different flying birds. The largest females can reach a length of 2 meters and weigh 58 kg. The smallest – the dwarf cassowary bird – reaches a length of 1 to 1.5 meters and weighs 18 to 26 kilograms.
Today, cassowaries are kept as livestock in the highlands of New Guinea. The birds are popular because of their meat and feathers.
It is possible that cassowaries were highly valued in the past, as they are the largest vertebrates on the island. Feeding cassowaries chickens would provide easy access to meat and feathers, Douglas says, as they are more difficult to hunt into adulthood.
Cassowaries are solitary animals and therefore love to be alone. They are usually very shy and are experts at spotting humans and escaping into the dense vegetation of New Guinea long before they are discovered.
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