In 2008, I was rummaging through a box of Dodo bones when I came across something I hadn’t expected. I was looking for material to use in an articulated Dodo skeleton for the displays at Leeds City Museum.
The box was marked ‘Dodo bones’ but half its contents clearly wasn’t Dodo – the bones were slimmer and of a different colour. I was very disappointed, it appeared that we didn’t have quite as large a collection of Dodo material as we’d thought. What I’d come across however, was something just as special: an unknown cache of Great Auk bones.
Great Auks are extinct seabirds that lived across the north Atlantic – for more information see http://tinyurl.com/3k4kmxy . Their skins, eggs and bones have been popular with collectors for centuries but Leeds – up until now – did not have any Great Auk material in its collections (we did have a mount at the end of the 19th century but sadly that was only a loan and so finally ended up being sold to Edinburgh).
Great Auk bones are relatively common in museums but what was surprising in this case was that no one knew Leeds had any. A photograph of a display in Leeds c.1930, clearly shows Great Auk bones lying behind a ‘Bones of the extinct DODO’ label. The chunky Dodo bones lie behind the slender Auks at the front:
So there we are – a new species to add to the record books in Leeds. If you would like to visit the bones then please make an appointment to see them (for free) at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.
Great Auk Pinguinus impennis