Archaeology news: Extinct species of goose discovered in Ancient Egyptian pyramid

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Archaeologists are used to discovering the weird and wonderful when examining Ancient Egypt, but it is unusual to find evidence of an extinct animal. However, that is just what they found when looking into a pharaoh’s tomb. The sketchings of six geese were first discovered 150 years ago in 1871 in the Meidum Pyramid south of Cairo, but it has taken until now to determine two of the geese are a different species compared to what is about today.

Anthony Romilio, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Queensland in Australia, examined the six geese, which were painted 4,600 years ago.

Previous researchers believed the strange colourings on two of the geese, which, were down to “artistic licence”.

Four of the geese are known species, the greater white-fronted goose, and the Greylag, which are still found across Europe and the northern hemisphere.

But Dr Romilo used a method known as the Tobias criteria to give a new perspective on two of the etchings.

These two geese have a distinctive red pattern on their chest at the base of their neck, which is different to the red-breasted goose which still lives today.

Although the species are similar, there are distinct differences as seen in the Meidum tomb.

Dr Romilo said: “I applied the Tobias criteria to the goose, along with other types of geese in the fresco.

“This is a highly effective method in identifying species – using quantitative measurements of key bird features – and greatly strengthens the value of the information to zoological and ecological science.”

The analysis revealed the pair of contentious geese are too different to the other red-breasted geese to be the same species.

This included a large, distinctive plume in their feathers which make them unique to the other four geese depicted in the Meidum.

Mr Romilo said: “Apparently no-one realised it depicted an unknown species.

“Artistic licence could account for the differences with modern geese, but artworks from this site have extremely realistic depictions of other birds and mammals.

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“From a zoological perspective, the Egyptian artwork is the only documentation of this distinctively patterned goose, which appears now to be globally extinct.”

Dr Romilo added that many species of unknown birds likely thrived in Egypt 4,600 years ago, when the climate was different and it was more green with an abundance of water, unlike the desert of today.

He said: “Its ancient culture emerged when the Sahara was green and covered with grasslands, lakes and woodlands, teeming with diverse animals, many of which were depicted in tombs and temples.

“So far, science has confirmed the identity of relatively few of these species.”

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