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A DODO SKELETON
A DODO SKELETON
A DODO SKELETON
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A DODO SKELETON
5 More
A DODO SKELETON

MAURITIUS, BEFORE 1690

Details
A DODO SKELETON
MAURITIUS, BEFORE 1690
The near-complete composite skeleton from fossil remains from Mare-aux-Songes and rare bones found by Etienne Thirioux, a Mauritian naturalist active around the turn of the 19th century.
25 x 22 x 14in. (64 x 55 x 35cm.)
Provenance
Paul Carié (1876-1930)
Thence by descent
Literature
Carié, P. ‘Gisement ou fut trouve le Dronte’, in Extrait de Bulletin Mensuel de la Société Linnéene de Lyon. September 1976

Comparative Literature:
Fuller, E. Dodo: from extinction to icon (London: 2002)
Hume, J., et al., 'How Owen 'stole' the Dodo: academic rivalry and disputed rights to a newly discovered subfossil deposit in nineteenth century Mauritius', Historical Biology vol. 21 (2009) pp.33-49

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Lot Essay

First recorded by Dutch sailors on the island of Mauritius in 1598, the Dodo was a flightless bird, standing about 30 inches tall, a distant relation of the pigeon family. Less than a century after its discovery sightings of it ceased. Errol Fuller records 16 contemporary written reports and 15 illustrations (a previously unrecorded watercolour subsequently sold in these rooms, 9 July 2009, lot 596). Together with these, a skull at the University Museum, Oxford, a foot at the British Museum (now lost) and a skull in Copenhagen constituted all the data available to ornithologists for the next two centuries. Linneaus provided the binomial name Raphus cucullatus in 1758 and then the charming synonym Didus ineptus in 1766. With no fossil remains yet discovered, some nineteenth century scholars even doubted the existence of the Dodo.
Then in 1865 George Clark (1807-73) obtained permission to dig in a marsh in south-east Mauritius called the Mare aux Songes, and it is from this excavation that the majority of sub-fossil remains derive. Richard Owen obtained the first shipment from the site and "wasted no time in publicly announcing the discovery, staging highly publicized lectures and public engagements in January 1866, before publishing the description of the Dodo's anatomy in October of that year" (Hume et al., p. 35). Fuller lists 25 institutions (to which we can add one) with holdings of Dodo material, but very little is now in private hands. And this specimen is the only complete skeleton to have been assembled in the 19th century still in private hands.
Paul Carié was a wealthy landowner in Mauritius, whose family owned the Mare aux Songes estate, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries assembled more than one skeleton, some he sold to French museums and others he donated. One he kept, and it has remained with the family since. More than one of his descendants would go on to have a profession in natural history with interests in ornithology.
The dodo is now long extinct. Our access to it is through the reports of seventeenth-century explorers, the art they produced and inspired, and the bones that have come to us from Mauritius. Of its diet, habit and call we know almost nothing, and yet it remains one of the most iconic birds ever to have lived.

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