The first inhabitants of present-day northern China encountered giant ostriches!

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A research duo recently analyzed a fossil of a giant ostrich femur from the Quaternary Period. Scientists have been able to trace the geographical evolution of this animal and have pointed to a diffusion to the north of present-day China. The first hominids in this region therefore certainly lived with this kind of massive ostrich. On the other hand, the latter – given its characteristics – must have been rather difficult prey to attack.

A giant and massive ostrich

Two paleontologists from ENS Paris (France) and the University of Bristol (United Kingdom) studied a fossil dating from 1.8 million years ago. In their study published on the platform Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) on January 26, 2021, researchers say they analyzed a femur fossil with belonged to a giant ostrich. The fossil in question had been found in 1925 in the Nihewan basin (see map below), about 150 km northwest of the Chinese capital Beijing (or Beijing).

Credits: Eric Buffetaut, Delphine Angst / MDPI

Preserved at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris since 1927, the fossil has recently provided a great deal of information. From the dimensions of the femur, paleontologists have estimated the animal weight between 300 and 450 kg, or about 3 times more than contemporary ostriches.

Prey for the first hominids?

According to the researchers, the animal in question certainly belongs to kind Pachystruthio, so far only known in Crimea, Georgia, Hungary and Romania. However, the Nihewan basin is more than 6,000 km of these countries! Thus, it is a question here of a dispersion of the animal much more distant than what Science thought until today. The study leaders explained that the distribution of this animal may have been facilitated by development of meadows and steppes at the beginning of the Quaternary. Recall that this is the third period of the Cenozoic era in which we are currently, having started about 2.6 million years ago.

Thus, the first hominids of the current northwest of China have in their daily life, probably rubbed shoulders with the ostrich. Pachystruthio. Nevertheless, it is absolutely not certain that they attacked her. Besides its massive weight, the animal could measure about 3.5 meters in height. Impressive, especially when you consider that today’s ostriches are capable of running long distances at a top speed of 70 km / h. Maybe the hominids of the time were smart enough to steal its eggs from time to time? For the moment, no one can confirm this possibility.

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