The mystery behind the extinction of a huge flightless bird called Genyornis that flourished in the grasslands and woodlands of prehistoric Australia may have been solved, with burned eggshells as the clue and people as the culprits.

Scientists said Friday burn patterns detected on eggshell fragments indicate that the humans who first arrived in Australia roughly 50,000 years ago gathered and cooked the big bird's eggs, playing havoc with its reproductive success.

The study is the first to provide direct evidence that these early human inhabitants preyed on the remarkable large animals that once thrived in Australia but disappeared after people got there, University of Colorado geological sciences professor Gifford Miller said.