Above: Some of the excavated fossils. At least 2,000 bones of several different animal and bird species have been found so far at the site. Photo: Julia Heinen

 

A TEAM OF researchers have discovered a 12,000-year-old swamp in Mauritius filled with thousands of fossils from extinct birds and animals.

The site, near Mare la Chaux, was first discovered in 1832 and was re-discovered in 2015 by an international group of researchers, including palaeontologist Dr Julian Hume from the Natural History Museum (NHM). It has now been excavated for the first time as part of a collaboration between the National Heritage Foundation and the landowner.

While a large range of different species’ bones were found – with a density of about 600 per cubic metre – it was the discovery of dodo bones that Dr Hume, a specialist on the history of the dodo, was amazed by.

He said: “This is one of the most exciting fossil excavations I have worked on. We are literally peeling back the history of Mauritius layer by layer. The sheer volume of remains we have found has been incredible, including extinct giant tortoises, giant skinks and dodos – a culturally significant bird to Mauritius and global icon of extinction.”

So far, at least 2,000 bones have been excavated, which has allowed palaeontologists to date the site at 12,000 years old – one of the oldest fossil sites in the Western Indian Ocean.

The team plan to excavate the site for many years to come to learn more about the natural dynamics of the lowland rainforests of Mauritius and the species that lived there. They also hope to provide information on the impact of climate change to determine how humans should treat the environment in the future.

Dr Delphine Angst, a palaeontologist specialising in fossil birds from the University of Bristol, added: “This is very exciting because for the first time we have dodo bones that are well-dated and associated through time with other animals and plants.”

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