A study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder provides the first direct evidence that Homo Sapien s would play a key role in the extinction of Genyornis newtoni, a giant flightless bird that lived in Australia until about 50, 000 years ago. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, rekindles attention on the debate regarding the causes of the extinction of large animals of the past (the so-called megafauna) such as mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, giant wolves and others.

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Who killed the great animals of the past?

What the research says. 2 meters high and weighing 230 kilos, the Genyornis n. disappeared along with many other species shortly after (geologically speaking) the arrival of man, estimated around 47 thousand years ago, aboard boats coming from the Indonesian islands.

The survey, conducted by the Gifford Miller team, for which fragments of egg shells from 200 sites have been dated, would certify how the eggs were an integral part of the diet of Homo sapiens, whose habits would thus have caused the decline of the prehistoric bird.

Cooked and eaten. The dating framed the fossils in a time window between 54 and 47 thousand years ago. The analyzes carried out on Genyornis eggs - whose dimensions had to be more or less those of a 3.5-pound melon - have made it possible to exclude that the burns detected on the shells were due to natural causes: the hypothesis is instead that of a localized source of heat, probably a fire. Miller explained that this is "the first and only sure proof that humans have been direct predators of the extinct Australian megafauna."

Open debate. The disappearance of the megafauna in Australia and other continents has long been a subject of discussion in the scientific community. The two main positions, albeit apparently similar, propose readings of history overturned with respect to one another: on the one hand there are those who attribute responsibility to man, with the contribution of climate change; on the other hand, those who point the finger at climate change, but with the help of man.

The disappearance of the megafauna

The University of Colorado Boulder study would favor the first hypothesis, at least as far as the Genyornis newtoni is concerned. On the other hand, it is difficult to say whether our ancestors have always directly determined the extinction of other Australian giants, such as the giant wombat, because, as Miller points out, it is rare to recover evidence that can demonstrate man's predatory behavior.