Bone of ‘Scotland’s Dodo’ unearthed

Tom Brock with the Great Auk bone.  Photo: Rob McDougall
Tom Brock with the Great Auk bone. Photo: Rob McDougall

A second internationally-important finding has been uncovered following an archaeological dig at the Scottish Seabird Centre.

A bone from Scotland’s extinct Great Auk, a species last seen in British waters on St Kilda in 1840, has been recovered at the Kirk Ness site, now known as North Berwick.

The archaeological dig by Edinburgh-based Addyman Archaeology, and supported by Historic Scotland, revealed bones of butchered seals, fish and seabirds, including the bone of the Great Auk.

The upper arm bone (distal right humerus) of the flightless bird – best known as ‘Scotland’s Dodo’ – was unearthed at the entrance area of an early building and has been radio carbon dated to the 5th to 7th centuries.

Tom Brock OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, in East Lothian, said: “The discovery of the Great Auk bone on site at the Scottish Seabird Centre is fascinating but also very sad.

“We are so fortunate in Scotland to have a rich variety of seabirds and we must use the extinction of the Great Auk as a warning to future generations to look after our wonderful wildlife and the marine environment as an absolute priority.

“There are both behavioural and environmental lessons that must be taken from this internationally-important finding, and as an educational and conservation charity we will remain dedicated to inspiring people to enjoy, protect and learn about wildlife and the natural environment.”

The seabird was a favoured food source in medieval times and, being flightless, was comparatively easy to catch.

Human predation led to the inexorable decline of the species, ensuring that by the middle of the 19th century it had become persecuted and exploited into extinction.

The penguin-like bird was a one metre tall seabird whose range at one time extended from the north-eastern United States across the Atlantic to the British Isles, France and Northern Spain.

Because of its value for both food and as a source of oil in the Middle Ages, the Great Auk was hunted down relentlessly until it became the most eagerly wanted taxidermy specimen, and its eggs prized collectors’ trophies.

Unable to escape hunters on its stubby wings, the auk was wiped out systematically from its breeding grounds.