The Oxford Dodo

The Dodo Raphus cucullatus, a giant flightless pigeon endemic to Mauritius, became extinct in the late seventeenth century, and so rapid was the birds’ disappearance, that by the beginning of the nineteenth century even its very existence was questioned. Only four specimens were then recorded in European museums, of which the most famous was the Tradescant or Oxford Dodo, now in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It comprised the head and one foot, and unique soft tissue in the form of skin and traces of feathers. The history of this specimen is reviewed, including the still unresolved question of how it came to Britain, and we provide evidence to show that it was stuffed but probably never mounted. The changes of ownership, and its cataloguing and curation in the different museums are also described, along with its varying roles in entertainment, education and research from the earliest years until the nineteenth century. This is part one of a two-part article; the second deals with the Tradescant Dodo from its dissection in the 1840s until the present day.

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