(CN) – A construction project in Crimea turned into the discovery of one of the largest birds in history living among early Europeans, according to new research released Wednesday.
The flightless specimen, discovered in the Taurida Cave near the Black Sea, was more than 11 feet tall and believed to be a fast runner due to its slim and long femur bone, according to the research paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Scientists speculate it may have been a food source for early humans.
“We don’t have enough data yet to say whether it was most closely related to ostriches or to other birds, but we estimate it weighed about 450 kg (992 lbs.). This formidable weight is nearly double the largest moa, three times the largest living bird, the common ostrich, and nearly as much as an adult polar bear,” said lead author Nikita Zelenkov of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
While giant ancient birds have been found in Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar, scientists say this is the first time one has been discovered in the northern hemisphere.
“When I first felt the weight of the bird whose thigh bone I was holding in my hand, I thought it must be a Malagasy elephant bird fossil because no birds of this size have ever been reported from Europe. However, the structure of the bone unexpectedly told a different story,” Zelenkov said.
The research says the bird’s femur bone is comparable to that of an ostrich and that its speed “may have been essential” to its survival. Paleontologists date the bird to 1.5 to 2 million years ago.
The recent discovery of the cave could help scientists understand more about life in early Europe as additional fossils are uncovered.
“The Taurida cave network was only discovered last summer when a new motorway was being built. Last year, mammoth remains were unearthed and there may be much more to that the site will teach us about Europe’s distant past,” Zelenkov said.