Prehistoric birds from New Ireland, Papua New Guinea: Extinctions on a large Melanesian island Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • At least 50 species of birds are represented in 241 bird bones from five late Pleistocene and Holocene archaeological sites on New Ireland (Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea). The bones include only two of seabirds and none of migrant shorebirds or introduced species. Of the 50 species, at least 12 (petrel, hawk, megapode, quail, four rails, cockatoo, two owls, and crow) are not part of the current avifauna and have not been recorded previously from New Ireland. Larger samples of bones undoubtedly would indicate more extirpated species and refine the chronology of extinction. Humans have lived on New Ireland for ca. 35,000 years, whereas most of the identified bones are 15,000 to 6,000 years old. It is suspected that most or all of New Ireland's avian extinction was anthropogenic, but this suspicion remains undetermined. Our data show that significant prehistoric losses of birds, which are well documented on Pacific islands more remote than New Ireland, occurred also on large, high, mostly forested islands close to New Guinea.

publication date

  • March 2, 1999