The iconic Oxford dodo – the world’s best-preserved specimen of the extinct bird – died after being shot in the head, researchers using a new form of CT scanning revealed.
Analysis of the particles lodged in the dodo’s head and neck show them to be lead shot pellets, the sort used to hunt wildfowl during the 17th century.
The findings, reached through a collaboration between the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and WMG at the University of Warwick, challenge a long-standing consensus that the renowned specimen lived out its life as a show bird in London before arriving in Oxford in 1683 as part of the Tradescant collection.
In 1638, the writer Sir Hamon L’Estrange recorded a building in London where visitors could pay to see a dodo.
Dodos, native to the island of Mauritius, became extinct in the 17th century following the arrival of sailors and the animals that accompanied them.
Professor Paul Smith, director of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and a member of the research team that carried out the scanning, told the Guardian: “Not many dodos made it from Mauritius live to Europe, so the natural assumption was that the dodo that you could pay to see in 1638 had died by 1656 and was in the collection of John Tradescant, and then came to Oxford.
“We thought we knew the history quite well, that is the reason why it was a bit of a surprise when we put the specimen in a CT scanner.
“In a way it raises more mysteries… If it was the bird that was in London in 1638, why would anyone just shoot a dodo in London?
“And if it was [shot] in Mauritius, which is I suppose marginally more likely, there is a really serious question about how it was preserved and transported back, because they didn’t have many of the techniques that we use in the modern day to preserve soft tissues – and we know it came back with its feathers and its skin intact.”
The Oxford dodo is the only specimen which contains soft tissue, making it an invaluable resource for DNA studies.
The research team hopes to conduct further research on the shot, using chemical analysis to deduce where the lead came from.