Science

Massive 12-Foot Bird Lived Alongside Early Europeans

Pachystruthio dmanisensis
Image source: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

A Crimean cave hides a lot of secrets, including an ancient mystery that scientists have uncovered. A group of researchers found a fossil of a massive 12-foot bird, and after analysis, they found that this colossal bird may have lived alongside early Europeans.

These giant birds once lived on Madagascar, New Zealand and Australia. That said, researchers were quite surprised to find it in Taurida Cave, a cave on the northern coast of the Black Sea. This is the first evidence of this bird in Europe. The researchers found fossils of other animals, such as bison, which helped date the massive 12-foot bird to have probably lived 1.5 million to 2 million years ago

When our early human ancestors came to Europe, they might have encountered these birds or even lived alongside them, because this time frame fits the early human arrival to Europe. The researchers believe that the bird came to the Black Sea region through Turkey and the Southern Caucasus. The findings of the research were described in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“When I first felt the weight of the bird whose thigh bone I was holding in my hand, I thought it must be a Malagasy elephant bird fossil because no birds of this size have ever been reported from Europe. However, the structure of the bone unexpectedly told a different story,” study author Nikita Zelenkov of the Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

This is the first time researchers have discovered this kind of bird in the Northern Hemisphere, a species known as Pachystruthio dmanisensis. It is the  biggest bird every discovered. It’s nearly 12 feet tall, but it could not fly. It’s worth noting that the bird would have been incredibly fast and a reminder of elephant birds which went extinct during the 1700s.

“We don’t have enough data yet to say whether it was most closely related to ostriches or to other birds, but we estimate it weighed about 450kg [992 pounds],” Zelenkov said. “This formidable weight is nearly double the largest moa, three times the largest living bird, the common ostrich, and nearly as much as an adult polar bear.”

Researchers believe that the described massive 12-foot bird lived off fruit, which made it an herbivore. Using measurements of the femur, researchers were also able to measure how much the bird weighed. They believe that the bird grew to be so large because of its environment. At that time it was an arid environment which was the result of the upcoming Ice Age, which affected its life cycle.

“The Taurida cave network was only discovered last summer when a new motorway was being built. Last year, mammoth remains were unearthed and there may be much more to [sic] that the site will teach us about Europe’s distant past,” said Zelenkov.

Researchers also discovered a similar group of bird fossils at an archaeological site in Dmanisi, Georgia, which is also known as the oldest human ancestor archaeological site outside Africa.