Ancient penguin graveyard uncovered after 5,000 years ‘due to global warming’
Climate change has revealed an ancient graveyard of mummified penguins that have been hidden under thick Antartica ice for more than 5,000 years.
Unwitting scientists stumbled upon hundreds of penguin carcasses that had been frozen in time and preserved with feathers, bones and bodies.
Steven Emslie, a professor at the University of North Carolina, was among the team studying Cape Irizar on the south coast of Antartica.
His team encountered the puzzling ancient burial ground believing they were actually fresh remains, mostly of penguin chicks.
But as there was no record of a colony at the site, an investigation was launched that has since revealed that the bodies date back 5,000 years.
Emslie found abundant penguin chick bones scattered on the surface, along with guano stains, implying recent use of the site .
But that wasn’t possible, the professor said.
“We excavated into three of these mounds, using methods similar to archaeologists, to recover preserved tissues of penguin bone, feather, and eggshell, as well as hard parts of prey from the guano (fish bones, otoliths).
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“The soil was very dry and dusty, just as I’ve found at other very old sites I’ve worked on in the Ross Sea, and also had abundant penguin remains in them. Overall, our sampling recovered a mixture of old and what appeared to be recent penguin remains implying multiple periods of occupation and abandonment of this cape over thousands of years.
“In all the years I have been doing this research in Antarctica, I've never seen a site quite like this.
“This recent snowmelt revealing long-preserved remains that were frozen and buried until now is the best explanation for the jumble of penguin remains of different ages that we found there.”
Some of the bones were complete chick carcasses with feathers, now falling apart from decay as at a modern colony, as well as intact mummies.
The penguins had been hidden by under the ice for at least 800 years until global warming melted ice and snow entombing them.
Radio-carbon dating revealed three sites in the area had been used by three different epochs, with the earliest penguins occupying the rocky landscape 5,000 years ago.
In a paper into the discovery, originally made in 2016, the professor wrote: “As warming trends continue in Antarctica and the Ross Sea, additional snow and ice-covered sites may become evident and add to the dynamic record of penguin occupation and abandonment over millennia with climate change.”
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