Study of Famous Dodo Reveals Surprise Death

Oxford's specimen was shot in the back of the head, scan reveals
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2018 12:08 PM CDT
File illustration of the extinct dodo.   (Getty/Aunt_Spray)

(Newser) – Scientists used the latest forensic scanning technology to look inside the world's most famous dodo specimen in the hope of learning more about the anatomy of the bird that went extinct on Mauritius 350 years ago. "In our wildest dreams we never expected to find what we did," says University of Warwick researcher Mark Williams. They uncovered what the CBC labels a "dodo whodunit." Though scientists had assumed the dodo kept at Oxford University Museum of Natural History died of natural causes, inside its mummified skull were 20 to 30 "metallic high-density particles" that left no doubt how the male bird met its end: "He was shot in the back of the head with a shotgun," Williams says, adding "we could be looking at the first examples of lead shots ever used to hunt game birds."

Now begins the search for the culprit: Museum director Paul Smith says a chemical analysis of the lead pellets will hopefully reveal "what country the shot was made in so we could then determine who killed the dodo." The Oxford specimen—the most complete dodo to be found and the only one to contain soft tissue and viable DNA—was previously thought to be from a dodo displayed in London in 1638 before its natural death, per the Telegraph. "Was it shot in the UK? More likely, was it shot in the Mauritius and then transferred to the UK? Was it shot for food on a ship?" Williams wonders, per Live Science. The dodo was later acquired by King Charles II's gardener and passed to Oxford, where it is said to have inspired Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, reports the BBC. (Dodos shed their feathers.)

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