World’s most dangerous bird domesticated before even the chicken

Discovery could change the way we teach the first steps of civilization in school. The cassowary may have been bred by humans before the chicken.

It's called casuarius casuarius or Australian cassowary and is also known as the world's most dangerous bird. It is native to New Guinea, where it still lives. Specimens are also found in northern Australia. In 2019, a cassowary fatally wounded a man in Florida with a kick. In 1926, another specimen slit the throat of a teenager with claws, those of the legs, equipped with sharp spines.

What do studies of cassowary breeding in New Guinea consist of

A surprising hypothesis is that these birds were bred by humans as long as 18 thousand years ago, in New Guinea. If the theory is confirmed, cassowaries would be considered the earliest known example of avian breeding by humans. "This is thousands of years before the domestication of the chicken," argues Kristina Douglass, an archaeologist at Penn State University and lead author of a study published for the archives of the National Academy of Science.

The hypothesis is based on 1,019 cassowary eggshell fragments found by Susan Bulmer for the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea, as part of research conducted on the remains of a colonial settlement dated 42 thousand years ago.

An analysis of the shape of the cassowary eggs suggested they were cooked (the shells in fact show signs of being burned), but many fragments come from almost fully developed eggs. "There's a good chance that people were hatching cassowary eggs to raise chicks." Chicks coexist better with humans than adults, only becoming dangerous later in life as they age.

The discovery could change what we teach about the earliest steps of civilization

Supporting the idea of breeding is the fact that natives considered cassowary meat a luxury good, as well as feathers on the other hand. Getting a similar "coexistence" result with chickens is highly unlikely, but if the research team's hypotheses are confirmed, it would mean that New Guinea's early inhabitants were the first known humans to systematically tame birds.

For Megan Hicks, an archaeologist at Hunter College in New York City, the study could lead to a reevaluation of some of the concepts taught in schools. "Where mammals are the earliest known cases" of breeding, the expert explains, "we now know that we need to pay more attention to human interactions with avian species."

About new discoveries about avian species, it's not a pleasure to know that many birds are changing shape.

Giuseppe Giordano