Famous Dodo Said to Have Inspired 'Alice in Wonderland' Character Died After It Was Shot in Head

The Oxford Dodo is the most famous example of an extinct bird species. University of Warwick/Oxford University Museum of Natural History

A famous dodo that was said to have inspired English writer Lewis Carroll when he wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland died from being shot in the head, according to new research.

The flightless bird, referred to as the Oxford Dodo, whose remains are the most well-known example of what is now an extinct species, was hit in the back of its head and neck with a shotgun, the University of Warwick reported. The shot embedded lead pellets in its tissue.

"The shot did not penetrate its skull—which is now revealed to be very thick," the university said.

Its newly suggested violent death contradicts "the popular theory that the Oxford Dodo is the remains of a bird kept alive in a townhouse in 17th-century London."

The lead shotgun pellets the researchers found are consistent with the type of weaponry used to hunt wildfowl during its era.

Researchers made their discovery with the help of a CT scan, enabling them to take a peek inside the Oxford Dodo's head without cutting it open.

This bird has been residing at the University of Oxford's Museum of Natural History for a few centuries. It is the only dodo specimen with soft tissue, making it significant on a scientific level as well as a cultural one. The bird's remains include a mummified head and a foot.

It was during its time on display at the museum that the creature inspired a famous English author to write the Alice in Wonderland character known as the Dodo.

"The Oxford Dodo is an important specimen for biology, and because of its connections with Lewis Carroll it is of great cultural significance too," Oxford University Museum of Natural History Director Paul Smith said in the university statement. "The new findings reveal an unexpected part of history of this specimen as we thought the bird had come to the museum after being displayed as a live specimen in London."

The dodo has become a symbol in animal extinctions, both as an example of species humans have snuffed out and, in a mocking manner, as an example of things that have become obsolete. They disappeared by the late 1600s—only some decades after they were first discovered on the Indian Ocean island Mauritius.

In addition to the head and foot at the Oxford museum, there are small remains and skeletons in some other museums.

"When we were first asked to scan the [Oxford] Dodo, we were hoping to study its anatomy and shed some new light on how it existed," university researcher Mark Williams said in the statement. "In our wildest dreams, we never expected to find what we did. Although the results were initially shocking, it was exciting to be able to reveal such an important part of the story in the life of the world's most famous extinct bird."

A 3-D scan of the Oxford dodo has revealed it died by being shot in the back of the head and neck with a shotgun, embedding lead pellets into its tissue. WMG/University of Warwick