Penguin Mummies Discovered At Abandoned Antarctic Nesting Site
Remains of penguins have been discovered that are thought to be at least 800 years old, some even older, according to scientists.
The find, at an old nesting site at Cape Irizar, just off the south coast of Antarctica, was originally made in 2016 after a team uncovered remains of the Adélie penguin colony that used the areas as nesting grounds.
However, despite the penguins having not been seen in the area for more than a century, fresh remains have since been discovered, suggesting otherwise.
As well as the recent corpses, mummified bodies were identified, along with bones and excrement. Experts believe these new remains, including the mummified penguins, had been buried under the ice for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, which are now only visible after the region has significantly melted.
Steve Emslie, who has ben studying this type of penguin for years, has dated the mummies. He clarifies that the Adélies have only occupied this territory around three times over the past 5,000 years, before they were finally pushed out by the threat of encroaching sea ice nearly a century ago.
But it was four years ago when Emslie first found the remains, and did so by pure chance. Speaking to Business Insider, the researcher said: ‘We had one extra day, so we thought we should check it out.’ During this time, they found penguin poo, among scattered bones and carcasses, which included both mummified corpses and those still with skin and feathers.
‘I thought to myself, ‘That’s strange, did we miss a colony?” And that it ‘looked like a modern colony that had been abandoned for a season,’ he recalled.
In his most recent study, published in GeoScienceWorld Emslie detailed his findings with the world, sharing how his team used radiocarbon dating to suggest that the mummified bodies they’d stumbled upon were in fact ancient ones and not newly deceased. Penguin chicks were mostly what they found in what was once a popular place, where breeding adults would build their nests from pebbles as a means of protecting their young.
Researchers excavated a variety of skin, shells, bone, and feathers to analyse and subsequently date in the labs at the University of North Carolina, where Emslie is an ornithologist and professor.
In fact, the mummified bodies are thought to be anything between 800 and 5,000 years old, and had remained buried and untouched until rising temperatures caused the snow and ice above them to melt.
The land-based birds are no longer able to nest in Cape Irizar because of the large areas of sea ice blocking access to the beaches, which wasn’t always the case but were, many years previous, forced to flee to better grounds.
‘Penguins like to come back to same place every year to nest,’ Emslie explained, ‘but if conditions change so they can’t nest there anymore, they’ll move on.’
Experts state that Adélie penguins lived in the region firstly between 5,145 and 2,750 years ago, then for a second spell between 2,340 and 1,375 years ago, and thirdly and finally somewhere between 1,100 and 800 years ago.
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