The last dodo sighting was reported in 1662, and in 1680, the bird was declared officially extinct. To add insult to injury, our depiction of dodos as strange, awkwardly-shaped birds may not even accurate—the skeletons in most museums are made of bones scavenged from different birds, so it’s difficult to know how close we get with our modern-day representations.
Because the dodo was extinct before cameras were invented, we can only rely on paintings and illustrations to help inform our current understanding of the flightless bird. Today, some researchers believe the traditional depiction of the dodo may have been a product of artistic license, because its skeleton couldn’t have supported such weight. In fact, some of the earliest images of the dodo, dating back to 1598, show a much thinner, almost athletic bird.
Despite all of the misleading information out there, there is one thing about dodos we’re certain we know: what its head looked like. And that’s because the Oxford University Museum of Natural History has the world’s only soft-tissue dodo specimen in existence.
It’s believed the mummified head came from a dodo once displayed in London as a public attraction. When she died, she was stuffed and given to John Tradescant Sr., a naturalist who collected interesting specimens. When Tradescant passed away in 1662, his collection went to his friend Elias Ashmole, who relocated it to the now-famous Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. Sadly, the taxidermied dodo was neglected. By 1755, the museum discovered that mites and other bugs had destroyed everything but the dodo’s head and one foot. The rest of the body was burned, lost forever to the annals of history.
The remains are typically only available for research; for example, scientists conducted DNA tests on the foot several years ago and discovered the dodo’s closest living relative is the Nicobar pigeon. Unless you’re a credentialed scientist or researcher, the closest you’ll probably be able to get is the replica of the remains on display at the Ashmolean. Still, being in the same building as a real dodo is closer than most people have gotten in the past 350 years.