29 Mar 2013

Going, going, gone - dodo bone up for sale in London

1:02 am on 29 March 2013

A rare fragment of a dodo bone will go on sale in Britain in April, about 300 years after the flightless bird and icon of obsolescence was hunted to extinction.

Auctioneers Christie's is hoping to raise as much as £15,000 for the 10-centimetre piece of a bird's femur, Reuters reports.

The last sale of dodo remains the auction house can find took place in London in 1934 so it is expecting considerable interest from a highly specialised band of collectors and enthusiasts.

"It is so rare for anyone to part with these prized items," says James Hyslop, head of Travel, Science and Natural History at Christie's auction house in South Kensington, London.

"From its appearance in Alice in Wonderland to the expression 'dead as dodo', the bird has cemented its place in our cultural heritage.

The Western world first heard of dodos in 1598 when Dutch sailors reported seeing them on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

Less than 100 years later, the birds had disappeared. Most experts say they were probably hunted down by successive waves of hungry sailors, and the pigs and other large animals they brought on to the island.

No complete specimens have survived and scientists have been pouring over fragments of remains for years to try to reconstruct what the dodo might have looked like.

The famous image of a squat, comic, short-necked bird, immortalised in John Tenniel's illustrations for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, is widely thought to be wrong.

Christie's did not say whether the thigh bone, part of an unnamed private English collection, would provide any fresh clues.

The auction house says it was almost certainly excavated in 1865 at Mare aux Songes in Mauritius during a dig by natural history enthusiast George Clark.

The bone is one of 260 lots in a Travel, Science and Natural History sale to be held by Christie's in London on 24 April.

Other items on the block include a fossilised egg from Madagascar's equally extinct elephant bird, more than 100 times the average size of a chicken egg, as well as scientific instruments, maps and globes.