Humans arrived on the tropical island of Madagascar more than 6,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to a study. Scientists led by Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in the UK analysed bones from what was once the world's largest bird.
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The study, published in the journal Science Advances, found that ancient bones from the extinct Madagascan elephant birds (Aepyornis and Mullerornis) show cut marks and depression fractures consistent with hunting and butchery by prehistoric humans.
Using radiocarbon dating techniques, the team was able to determine when these giant birds had been killed, reassessing when humans first reached Madagascar.
Previous research on lemur bones and archaeological artefacts suggested that humans first arrived in Madagascar 2,400-4,000 years ago, researchers said.
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However, the new study provides evidence of human presence on Madagascar as far back as 10,500 years ago -- making these modified elephant bird bones the earliest known evidence of humans on the island.
"We already know that Madagascar's megafauna -- elephant birds, hippos, giant tortoises and giant lemurs -- became extinct less than 1,000 years ago," said James Hansford from ZSL's Institute of Zoology.
There are a number of theories about why this occurred, but the extent of human involvement has not been clear. The research provides evidence of human activity in Madagascar more than 6,000 years earlier than previously suspected, researchers said.
This demonstrates that a radically different extinction theory is required to understand the huge biodiversity loss that has occurred on the island, they said.
"Humans seem to have coexisted with elephant birds and other now-extinct species for over 9,000 years, apparently with limited negative impact on biodiversity for most of this period, which offers new insights for conservation today," Hansford added.