Simon Pendleton and Giff Miller collect ancient plant remains melted out of the edges of the ice cap on Baffin Island. Photo by Matt Kennedy, Earth Vision Trust.

Kirk Bryan Award goes to a team of INSTAARs, colleagues

Oct. 19, 2023

A team of researchers that included several INSTAAR scientists received the prestigious Kirk Bryan Award from the Quaternary Geology & Geomorphology Division of the Geological Society of America (GSA). The prestigious award honors the authors of a recent paper that advances the science of geomorphology.

Elephant bird eggshells lie exposed on a beach in Madagascar. Photo by Giff Miller.

How 1,200-year-old eggs from a 9-foot tall, 1,500-pound bird led to a scientific breakthrough (USA Today)

March 11, 2023

Towering over nine feet tall and weighing over 1,500 pounds, the now-extinct aepyornis lived more than 1,200 years ago and was Madagascar’s largest land animal. Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder and Curtin University in Australia recently discovered a new lineage of the birds using eggshell remnants, as well as isotope geochemistry and protein extraction. The findings were published in Nature Communications.

The field team in May 2007, while i Madagascar where the samples in the paper were collected. From left to right: Ramil, lead guide from the National Museum in Antananarivo; Gifford Miller; Steve DeVogel; and guide Nemad. Photo courtesy Gifford Miller.

Giant eggshells reveal the secrets of Madagascar's elephant birds (NPR)

March 8, 2023

Before they were driven to extinction, giant elephant birds roamed Madagascar, weighing up to 2,000 pounds and towering 10 feet tall. A new analysis of DNA in their eggshells gives new information about the birds and identifies a previously unknown lineage. The story is a 2-minute listen on National Public Radio.

Surface scatter of Aepyornis eggshell exposed by active wind erosion of sand dunes in which the birds nested. Photo by Gifford Miller.

Ancient eggshells unlock discovery of extinct elephant bird lineage (CU Boulder Today)

March 1, 2023

More than 1,200 years ago, elephant birds roamed the island of Madagascar. While these ostrich-like giants are now extinct, new research from CU Boulder and Curtin University in Australia reveals that their eggshell remnants hold valuable clues about their time on Earth. Published today in Nature Communications, the study describes the discovery of a previously unknown, separate lineage of elephant bird that roamed the wet, forested landscapes on the northeastern side of Madagascar—a discovery made without access to any skeletal remains.

The giant bird Genyornis went extinct in Australia around 50,000 years ago. Illustration provided by Gifford Miller.

How we cracked the mystery of Australia’s prehistoric giant eggs (The Conversation)

Jan. 25, 2023

Gifford Miller and collaborators Matthew James Collins and Beatrice Demarchi tell the story of the ancient eggshell fragments found in eroding Australian sand dunes, the controversy around their origins, and how new techniques and AI helped solve the mystery. A summary chapter in the evolving story of Genyornis and the probable causes of its extinction.

Drawing of Genyornis newtoni, a thunderbird from the pleistocene of Australia

Egg-eating humans helped drive Australia’s ‘thunder bird’ to extinction (Science)

May 27, 2022

The giant bird Genyornis newtoni disappeared from Australia 45,000 years ago, and researchers have long puzzled over whether human hunters or climate change was the culprit. Now, a new analysis of ancient eggshells—the leftovers of a prehistoric feast—suggests humans were responsible. Study led by Giff Miller. Illustration by Nobu Tamura.

Gifford Miller collects fragments of eggshells believed to be remnants of the extinct Genyornis

Bits of an extinct bird’s eggshells may be clue to why megafauna vanished (Washington Post)

May 26, 2022

A new study led by Giff Miller suggests that the 500-pound Genyornis newtoni laid the eggs marked by cooking fires in Australia, and not a smaller bird. The study could shed light on an even bigger scientific mystery, of why megafauna went extinct shortly after the advent of humans on the continent.

CU Boulder campus in fall colors with flatirons behind

New class of CU Distinguished Professors: Leaders in research, education, service (CU Connections)

Nov. 11, 2021

University’s highest faculty honor awarded to 11 professors for 2021, including INSTAARs Diane McKnight and Giff Miller.

CU Boulder campus building with fall tree colors

Six CU Boulder faculty members become distinguished professors (CU Boulder Today)

Nov. 5, 2021

Diane McKnight and Giff Miller are among those added to the roster of distinguished professors, the highest honor bestowed by the CU System. The award recognizes faculty who demonstrate exemplary performance in research or creative work; a record of excellence in promoting learning and student attainment of knowledge and skills; and outstanding service to the profession, the university and its affiliates.

Dwarf birch growing in northern Qikiqtaaluuk, Baffin Island

Ancient plant DNA and pollen found under Baffin Island lake show a greener Arctic (ArcticToday)

April 8, 2021

The snowy landscape of the Arctic was greener more than 100,000 years ago and could get there again as the climate warms and plants migrate further north, new research suggests. Plant DNA taken from soil 10 meters below a lake near Clyde River shows dwarf birch shrubs used to grow up to the northernmost point of Baffin Island, according to research led by Sarah Crump, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The samples, more than 100,000 years old, were found in soil and were more intact than samples from permafrost, suggesting they may have remained unfrozen.