LONDON (Reuters) - A rare four-inch fragment of a dodo bone will go on sale in Britain in April, around 300 years after the flightless bird and icon of obsolescence was hunted to extinction.
Auctioneers Christie's said on Wednesday it was hoping to raise as much as 15,000 pounds ($22,600) for the piece of a bird's femur.
The last sale of dodo remains the auction house could find took place in London in 1934 - and it was expecting considerable interest from a highly specialized band of collectors and enthusiasts.
"It is so rare for anyone to part with these prized items," said James Hyslop, head of Travel, Science and Natural History at Christie's auction house in South Kensington, London.
"From its appearance in "Alice in Wonderland" to the expression 'dead as dodo', the bird has cemented its place in our cultural heritage," he added.
The Western world first heard of dodos in 1598 when Dutch sailors reported seeing them on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.
Less than 100 years later, the birds had disappeared. Most experts say they were probably hunted down by successive waves of hungry sailors, and the pigs and other large animals they brought on to the island.
No complete specimens have survived - and scientists have been pouring over fragments of remains for years to try and reconstruct what the dodo might have looked like.
The famous image of a squat, comic, short-necked bird, immortalized in John Tenniel's illustrations for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", is widely thought to be wrong.
Christie's did not say whether the thigh bone, part of an unnamed private English collection, would provide any fresh clues.
The auction house said its bone was almost certainly excavated in 1865 at Mare aux Songes in Mauritius during a dig by natural history enthusiast George Clark.
The bone is one of 260 lots in a Travel, Science and Natural History sale held by Christie's in London on April 24. The items are open to public viewing from April 20.
Other items on the block include a fossilized egg from Madagascar's equally extinct elephant bird, more than 100 times the average size of a chicken egg, as well as scientific instruments, maps and globes.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Andrew Heavens)