Illustration of Genyornis newtoni being hunted by a giant lizard in Australia about 50,000 years ago. Image credit: Peter Trusler, Monash University.

Australia’s first humans consumed eggs from giant birds: study |

Burn marks discovered on the 50,000-year-old eggshell fragments several years ago suggested that the first Australians boiled and ate large eggs from extinct birds, sparking a heated debate over the species that laid them. According to a new analysis of ancient eggshell protein sequences, the ancient eggs came from Genyornisa giant loopless ‘mihirung’ which became extinct between 30,000 and 5,000 years ago.

Illustration by Genyornis newtonian hunted by a giant lizard in Australia about 50,000 years ago. Image credit: Peter Trusler, Monash University.

Fossil records show that Genyornis was over 2 m high, weighed between 220-240 kg and laid eggs the size of a melon of about 1.5 kg.

It was one of the Australian megafauna that disappeared a few thousand years after the arrival of humans, suggesting humans played a role in its extinction.

The earliest robust date for the arrival of humans to Australia is about 65,000 years ago.

“There is no evidence of Genyornis slaughter in the archaeological record,” said Professor Gifford Miller, a researcher in the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“However, eggshell fragments with unique burning patterns consistent with human activity have been found in several places on the continent.”

“This means that the first humans didn’t necessarily hunt these huge birds, but routinely raided nests and stole their giant eggs for food.”

“Overexploitation of the eggs by humans may have contributed to: Genyornis become extinct.”

While Genyornis was always a contender for the mysterious egg layer, some scientists argued was a more likely candidate proguraanother extinct bird, much smaller, weighing about 5-7 kg and related to a large turkey.

The initial ambition was to settle the debate by extracting ancient DNA from shell fragments, but genetic material had not sufficiently survived the hot Australian climate.

Professor Miller and colleagues were able to compare the sequences in ancient proteins with those of living species using a huge new database of biological material: the Bird 10,000 Genomes (B10K) project

progura was related to today’s megapods, a group of birds in the galliform lineage, which also includes ground feeders such as chickens and turkeys,” said Professor Beatrice Demarchi, a researcher in the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology at the University of Turin.

“We found that the bird responsible for the mysterious eggs emerged before the galliform lineage, giving us the… progura hypothesis.”

“This supports the implication that the eggs eaten by early Australians were laid by… Genyornis

The researchers point out that the Genyornis The egg-exploitation behavior of the early Australians likely mirrors that of early humans with ostrich eggs, whose shells have been unearthed at archaeological sites across Africa that are at least 100,000 years old.

“While ostriches and humans coexisted in prehistoric times, the extent of exploitation of Genyornis eggs from early Australians may have ultimately proved more than the reproductive strategies of these extraordinary birds could tolerate,” said Professor Matthew Collins, a researcher in the Department of Archeology at the University of Cambridge.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Beatrice Demarchic et al† Ancient proteins resolve controversy over the identity of Genyornis egg-shell. PNAS, in the press; doi: 10.1073/pnas.2109326119

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