Dodo skeleton

  • Dodo skeleton
  • Dodo skeleton
  • Dodo skeleton

The dodo, native to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, became extinct in the late 17th century, 180 years after the island was discovered and colonised by Europeans. The demise of this large, flightless bird was caused by hunting, habitat destruction and predators introduced by the new arrivals. Probably for the first time, it was proven that intervention in a pristine ecosystem could lead to the extinction of an entire species of animal.

The Museum has a large quantity of bone material from Mauritius thanks to Alfred Newton, Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy from 1866-1907, and his brother Edward, a colonial administrator on the island. The brown-stained bones of this composite dodo skeleton were wired together under Alfred's direction. They were gathered by islanders, mostly from a swamp called Mare aux Songes ('Sea of Dreams').

DNA analysis has established that the dodo's nearest living relative is a species of south-east Asian pigeon species, whose ancestors travelled south across the ocean via a chain of now-vanished islands, only to lose the power of flight on reaching Mauritius. The dodo symbolises nature's fragility in the face of the human onslaught.

Maker/source: Found in Mauritius c.1870

Materials: Composite, bones

Accession No.: 415.H

Collection: Museum of Zoology

DISCOVERIES - Art, Science & Exploration
FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE MUSEUMS - 27 May - 27 July 2014