The name "southern cassowary" is typically synonymous with being the world's most dangerous bird. But according to new findings, it also once doubled as an ancient pet. Here's what scientists revealed about the mysterious creature that challenged everything we once thought we knew.
It all started when archaeologist Susan Bulmer began working an excavation site in New Guinea's eastern highlands. The New Zealand native collected artifacts and fossils from the location's rock shelter sites. Only as she continued to sift through her findings, she couldn't believe what she was seeing: over 1,000 fossils of cassowary eggshells.
The scientist couldn't understand what ancient inhabitants of the rock shelters were doing with such eggs. So, along with a team of researchers, she sent the shells to the lab to scan under 3D laser microscopes. With the help of statistic modeling and further inspection, the colleagues then uncovered how far long each egg had been before hatching.
Some of the samples were fully developed, while others revealed burn marks - implying they may have been cooked for eating. But while our ancestors might have used the creatures for food, Dr. Kristina Douglass - an archaeologist at Penn State University - surmised further: "There’s a great possibility that people were hatching those eggs and rearing cassowary chicks," she added.
How did she explain it? Several Indigenous groups of the region have been known to cherish cassowary meat and feathers, whether it be for rituals or trading purposes. In fact, such groups still raise cassowaries thanks to egg retrieval from wild nests. But while they might not be classified as a threat until adulthood, cassowaries are still worthy of immense caution...
Weighing close to 150 pounds, the birds - close descendants of velociraptors - boast reptilian legs that can reach almost 6 feet in height. But far more noteworthy? Their talons: razor-like claws that have been the cause of several documented deaths over the years. Safe to say, if the latest findings are correct, they might just alter everything researchers thought they knew about domestication. "It suggests that people who are in foraging communities have this really intimate knowledge of the environment and can thus shape it in ways we hadn’t imagined," Dr. Douglass explained.
Stay tuned while this story develops.