What's more, the location of the new skeleton makes it much more likely to yield DNA, said Beth Shapiro, a geneticist from Oxford University who studies dodo remains.
Most other dodo bones have come from a swampy region of Mauritius known as Mare aux Songes, she said (see a map of Mauritius).
"We have found tons of bones there, but the hot, wet, acidic environment has meant that the DNA survival has been terrible," Shapiro said.
Because dodos laid their eggs on the ground, the birds were easy targets for predators such as rats and pigs, which were introduced by Europeans 400 years ago.
Humans also hunted the dodo, which was about the size of a turkey, and within 80 years of its discovery the bird became extinct.
Since then the only dodo DNA sample has come from a specimen that was transported from Mauritius to the U.K. by a collector in the 15th century, Shapiro said.
"From a tiny fragment of DNA we were able to figure out its taxonomic relationship to other birds and show that dodos were essentially fat pigeons," she said of the study, which was conducted in 2002.
(Read: "Extinct Dodo Related to Pigeons, DNA Shows" [February 27, 2002].)
The cave site of the new skeleton is likely to provide the best hope of a decent DNA sample because the bones will not have been exposed to sunlight and the temperature was fairly constant, she added.
"We are really excited about the new find and hope it might tell us much more about the behavior and appearance of dodos," Shapiro said.
Free Email News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES