The discovery of fossilised bones in Crimea has revealed that huge birds which would dwarf ostriches once roamed the region. A thigh bone found in a cave belonged to the largest avian ever uncovered in the Northern Hemisphere.
The enormous flightless bird would have weighed the best part of half a tonne and lived at a time when Homus erectus, an ancestor of modern humans, had reached the European continent from Africa.
Important bones uncovered during motorway construction
The thigh bone was found in a cave located on the northern coast of the Black Sea during construction work for a new motorway. Other bones were found with it and analysis has suggested that the remains are between 1.5 million and 1.8 million years old. The awesome bird would have been a valuable source of food and materials for the early humans. It’s a pity that Homus erectus probably hadn’t discovered fire at that time because the gargantuan eggs would have made incredible omelettes!
Huge bird fooled scientist
Nikita Zelenkov is a palaeontologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences. When he first looked at the thigh bone he believed it must be from the extinct elephant bird of Madagascar. No birds of this size had been found in Europe before. But on closer inspection, he realised that the bone was almost certainly from the ancient species Pachystruthio dmanisensis. This was a flightless bird that stood about 3.5 metres tall.
The measurements of the thigh bone suggest that the bird weighed approximately 450kg, making it three times heavier than an ostrich which is the world’s largest remaining bird.
It isn’t known when the bird would have become extinct but it would probably have been not long after the arrival of Homus eructus. It was very large but its slender thigh bone suggests it was incredibly fleet of foot. It would have evolved to move fast because it lived at the same time as many significant predators of the Ice Age. This was a time when giant cheetahs and giant hyenas were hunting for food and could bring down prey as large as mammoths.
The largest bird that ever lived
Pachystruthio dmanisensis isn’t the largest bird that has graced this planet. Evolution has delivered several massive species of birds. Scientists argued for years as to which was the biggest. Last year, researchers at the Zoological Society of London tried to settle the issue by measuring bird bones around the world. They came across a true giant from Madagascar that would have stood three metres tall and which could have weighed 800kg. Its name is Vorombe titan which means big bird!
Further excavations at the site in Crimea have resulted in the discovery of a bison and a mammoth. Scientists will remain at the site for some time to come. They hope to learn more about Europe’s ancient history. It is possible that the enormous birds roamed across the continent. Through learning about the ancestors of birds, we can better understand the species we see today.