Curators at the Buffalo Science Museum in New York have made a surprising and very fortunate discovery. It seems that the museum had been in possession of an extremely rare exhibit without even realizing it, reports Buffalo News.
The object in question is an intact, partially fossilized egg belonging to the now extinct bird species called Aepyornis, commonly known as the elephant bird. The egg, purchased from London in 1939, had been mistakenly labeled as a “cast” and had been tucked away in a locked cabinet somewhere in the museum’s storage room.
There it remained for almost eight decades until its true value was uncovered by Paige Langle, manager of the museum’s zoological collection. Langle serendipitously stumbled upon the egg during inventory while she was going through old ledgers and cards to update the museum’s digital catalog.
Upon taking a closer look at the egg, she saw that it looked very different from other casts she had laid eyes on and began to suspect that it was, in fact, real.
She told Buffalo News that the elephant bird egg was much bigger compared to all the other 1,000 eggs in the museum’s collection.
“It had so much detailing and pitting, and the color was beautiful. It looked too realistic to be a model.”
The museum called in experts from the Art Conservation Department at the State University of New York, Buffalo, to inspect the elephant bird egg and assess its authenticity. The team performed X-rays and discovered not only that the egg was genuine, but also that it contained “specks of white,” which could be a sign that it had been fertilized.
Giant, intact egg of the extinct elephant bird found in Buffalo museum. https://t.co/UT8jqoP5M5
— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) April 23, 2018
“Lost, hidden or misidentified artifacts and specimens are not uncommon in museums that have been collecting for centuries,” Kathryn Leacock, the museum’s director of collections, explained.
Now that the truth has come out, the museum announced the egg will be displayed in the Rethink Extinct gallery starting May 1. The nearest elephant bird egg is held in Pittsburgh, at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Elephant bird eggs are the biggest of all the eggs laid by any vertebrate, Leacock revealed. The cream-colored, oval-shaped egg is 12 inches long, measures 28 inches in circumference, and weighs an impressive 3.5 pounds.
According to museum records, the rare elephant bird egg — so rare that only fewer than 40 exist in public institutions, notes Buffalo News — was acquired from a London taxidermist for the price of $92.
“Ninety-two dollars in 1939 was not cheap,” Leacock said.
Elephant birds have been extinct since the 17th century. These imposing birds, which probably got their moniker due to their thick, elephant-like legs, stood 10 feet tall and weighed up to 1,100 pounds.