OESTATIC: ostrich eggshell phylogeography and archaeological implications

Ostriches, weird-looking giant birds that cannot fly, have been people’s companion species for a large part of prehistory. Several taxa of ostriches once occupied a vast geographic range across Africa and Eurasia, sharing these landscapes with humans. A few subspecies still exist in Africa, but elsewhere they are gone. Why? Were people involved in their extirpation, like they were for Genyornis? Or was climate change the key factor?

We will never know how people and ostriches viewed each other, but the archaeological record holds precious hints demonstrating their frequent encounters and interactions: ostrich eggshell is ubiquitous on archaeological sites in Africa and Asia, and some of the first artistic expressions by Homo sapiens have been engraved in ostrich eggshell.

Ostrich eggshell yielded the oldest proteins in the world (Demarchi et al., 2016; 22) and these sequences are taxon specific: OESTATIC will lay the foundation for a reconstruction of ostrich paleobiogeography based on molecular phylogenetic markers preserved in ostrich eggshell, targeting well characterised specimens from museum and archaeological collections. The team will also look at human use, modification and transportation of objects made of eggshell, such as beads.

Funded by

The University of Turin Grant for Internationalization.

Principal Investigator
  • Prof. Beatrice Demarchi
Co-Investigators & collaborators

Dr Maria Codlin (University of Turin), Enrico Caprio, Cristiano Iaia, Federica Dal Bello (UniTo), Lisa Yeomans, Ella Tsahar, Douglas Russell, Julia Clarke, Josefina Perez Arantegui, Marcos Martinon Torres, Mercedes Murrillo-Barroso, Stan Ambrose.