One look at the cassowary and you’ll understand why humans domesticated chickens long-term instead. The flightless cassowary is one of the heaviest birds in the world, and new evidence shows that people were domesticating them in New Guinea nearly 18,000 years ago.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, in an excavation in New Guinea, archeologists found over 1,000 cassowary eggshell fragments. Ancient people may have raised baby cassowaries for meat and other resources. Additionally, they may have eaten the late-stage eggs as a delicacy called balut.
Finding these eggs means the ancient people of New Guinea were better at tracking and gathering intelligence than archeologists initially thought. The cassowary eggs would have been incredibly difficult and dangerous to collect. The fact that they collected them at all “suggests that people who are in foraging communities have this really intimate knowledge of the environment and can thus shape it in ways we hadn’t imagined,” archeologist Kristina Douglass told The New York Times.
All this new evidence shows the earliest attempts of humans to intentionally domesticate birds. Chickens were only domesticated about 10,000 years ago, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Cassowaries are still extremely dangerous in modern times. We can only imagine what the ancient New Guineans had to endure with them. “They have these really large, 4-inch-long claws,” said Douglass, “And if they feel threatened, they will use them.”
The flightless birds can get up to around 6 feet tall and can weigh up to 160 pounds. There have been several reports of cassowaries killing, but the majority of those are in self-defense. According to Scientific American, along with ostriches and chickens (though to be fair, the chicken had a knife attached to its leg), the cassowary is one of the few birds that has definitely killed humans. Though, the majority of attacks are self-defense or provoked by feeding.
Birds Mysteriously Dying
Officials in Crimea turned to veterinarians for a verdict on the dead birds, but do not have a report yet. Officials also believe it could be the less-than-ideal ecological conditions on the beach that lead to the mass die-off. According to the Federal Centre for Animal Health, the high pollution and mercury levels could have contributed.
There have been die-offs of birds in the U.S. as well, mostly concentrated in the Midwest. The birds in the U.S. are experiencing an illness that affects their eyes and nervous systems, causing blindness and loss of balance.
According to NPR, there could be a correlation between the dying birds and the Brood X cicadas that emerged this year. But, scientists are still not calling it causation. Bird ecologist Brian Evans told NPR concerning the cicadas, “One of the guesses is that it’s a fungus called massospora, and the fungus infects the cicadas.”
He also stated, “these cicadas have lived underground right underneath us for 17 years. And in those 17 years, they could have been accumulating toxins like pesticides or heavy metals.” The birds then eat the poisoned cicadas, which causes the mass die-off. Though it’s not confirmed, it is a probable theory.