Experts in the Crimea have found a fossil of a giant bird that lived about 1.6 to 1.8 million years ago. The find shows that giant birds were once native to Europe and that they first lived north of the equator. It also enables experts to better understand the environment in which early humans lived on the European continent.
The find was made by researchers of the Russian Academy of Sciences. They discovered the fossil in the "Taurida Cave on the north coast of the Black Sea," said CNN. They had been alerted to the site after it had been accidentally discovered while expanding a highway in the area. Preliminary excavation of the site revealed a number of fossils, including some of mammoth and extinct bison relatives.
Map showing the geographical location of the fossil site and the cave plan. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
A Giant Bird in Prehistoric Europe
Next they came across a very unusual fossil of a huge femur that was 15 inches long (45 centimeters). The Smithsonian.com quotes Nikita Zelenkov, a paleontologist, who led the team that examined the bone: "This was the most surprising part for me, an incredible size that we did not expect." Zelenkov and his colleagues soon discovered that it was a new species of giant bird that they tentatively named Pachystruthio dmanisensis.
The femurs of Pachystruthio dmanisensis, an extinct giant bird (panels A, C, E, F) and a modern bouquet (Struthio camelus) (panels B, D). (Zelenkov / Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology )
They had apparently discovered the first evidence of the existence of a giant bird that lived in Europe. Nova reports that researchers estimated the bird's body mass to be about half a ton based on "bone gauges."
This means that, according to Smithsonian.com, it was the largest bird ever to thrive in the Northern Hemisphere and the "third largest bird ever recorded". Due to the other fossils found in the area, dating was possible for 1.5 to 1.9 million years.
The species was very large, about 4 meters high and an herbivore. The bird was too big to fly, but based on the slender thigh bone, reminiscent of a huge bouquet, he could run at considerable speed, at least for a short time. This may enable him to live in the harsh environment of the time. His ability to run fast meant he could escape the wild Pleistocene predators like "giant cheetahs, hyenas, and saber-toothed cats," according to Nova.
The giant bird could run at considerable speed to escape predators such as the saber-toothed tiger. (FunkMonk / Public Domain )
A New Look at the Ancient Environment
The fossil challenges the view that giant birds in the distant past were not part of the European environment. These giants may have become so tall because they had to adapt to ever-drier conditions. Its mass would have allowed it to digest hard plants that contained little food and grew in a dry environment.
The dating of the bird means that he may have lived at the same time as the first humans (Homo erectus) arrived in Europe. They migrated from the Middle East across the Caucasus on the continent, probably the same way was followed by the huge bird species. This scenario raises important questions for researchers, especially in terms of their extinction.
The giant bird was hunted by early humans
The arrival of early humans may have meant that the towering birds had to contend with another predator. H. erectus may have been attracted to the flesh and feathers of Pachystruthio dmanisensis. It is possible that the first humans in Europe eradicated the species. Just like the giant bird, the Moa, was hunted by the Maori in New Zealand to extinction. To prove this theory, some bones of the towering poultry with cut or burn marks could prove that it was hunted by early humans.
Homo erectus may have hunted the giant birds. (Tim Evanson / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Although it is quite possible that the species is extinct due to human predators, there may have been other factors that led to its demise and disappearance to have . Nova, quoted Zelenkov, said that possible reasons for the bird's extinction are "a combination of pressures from a changing climate, predation and disease."
The fossil is compared to a similar bone from the Republic of Georgia to learn more about the giant bird. It was a very complex creature and can help us understand the Pleistocene environment. This in turn can help us to understand the world in which the early humans lived in Europe. The question of whether H. erectus brought the huge birds to extinction requires further investigation. The research and its conclusions were published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Picture above: Pachystruthio dmanisensis New species of giant birds have been discovered. Source: nicolasprimola / Adobe Stock.
By Ed Whelan