Giant prehistoric marsupial found in Northern Australia

Jul 05, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
Diprotodon optatum - giant marsupial from Pleistocene of Australia. Image: Dmitry Bogdanov/Wikipedia.

(PhysOrg.com) -- In what paleontologists are describing as a major find, researchers have dug up the remains of a creature that lived some 50,000 to two million years ago. The diprotodon (Diprotodon optatum) as it's known, has been described as somewhat akin to a giant wombat, and is a marsupial, meaning it carried it’s young in a pouch the way kangaroos do. And while other bones from diprotodon have been previously discovered in many other parts of Australia, this is the first complete skeleton, and its discovery will allow scientists to more accurately see what the animal actually looked like.

The excavation team, comprised of students and researchers from several Australian colleges and universities and led by project leader Professor Michael Archer of the University of New South Wales, has shipped the find to Mount Isa for further study. The was found in north-west Queensland's Gulf of Carpentaria region, and was first noted last year when a group unearthed a large leg bone, unaware of the rest of the skeleton buried nearby. It was only when they returned this year to investigate further did they find the rest of the skeleton. After further study and preparation at the Riversleigh Fossil Center, the skeleton will be put on display at the Queensland Museum.

Researchers are excited about the find because they believe it will help to fill in missing information about not just the diprotodon, but about early Aboriginal culture as the two are believed to have co-existed; and indeed one rib found at another site had a small square hole through it that many believe came about as the result of a spear strike.

Artist illustration of northern Australia in Pleistocene times, with diprotodon in foreground. Artwork: Dorothy Dunphy

The diprotodon, described as an SUV sized wombat, is believed to be the largest marsupial ever to have walked the earth, weighing in at some three tonnes (3000 kilograms) and stretching to 14 feet long (4.3 meters). A herbivore, the giant beast would have presented a challenge to early predatory humans nonetheless if was anything like a wombat, which has sharp rodent-like teeth and has been known to bite, charge and bowl over those that cause it alarm.

Because all of the bones were found together, the research team believes many more specimens, including those of other mega fauna, might be found in the area as well.

Explore further: Ancient clay seals may shed light on biblical era

Related Stories

Second ancient whale found in Italy

Apr 02, 2007

The skeleton of a 33-foot-long prehistoric whale has been discovered in what was once an ancient seabed in Italy's Tuscany region.

Remarkable fossil cave shows how ancient marsupials grew

Jul 14, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The discovery of a remarkable 15-million-year-old Australian fossil limestone cave packed with even older animal bones has revealed almost the entire life cycle of a large prehistoric marsupial, ...

New species of early hominid found

Apr 06, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A previously unknown species of hominid that lived in what is now South Africa around two million years ago has been found in the form of a fossilized skeleton of a child and several bones ...

Recommended for you

Ancient clay seals may shed light on biblical era

9 hours ago

Impressions from ancient clay seals found at a small site in Israel east of Gaza are signs of government in an area thought to be entirely rural during the 10th century B.C., says Mississippi State University archaeologist ...

Digging up the 'Spanish Vikings'

Dec 19, 2014

The fearsome reputation of the Vikings has made them the subject of countless exhibitions, books and films - however, surprisingly little is known about their more southerly exploits in Spain.

Short-necked Triassic marine reptile discovered in China

Dec 17, 2014

A new species of short-necked marine reptile from the Triassic period has been discovered in China, according to a study published December 17, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xiao-hong Chen f ...

Gothic cathedrals blend iron and stone

Dec 17, 2014

Using radiocarbon dating on metal found in Gothic cathedrals, an interdisciplinary team has shown, for the first time through absolute dating, that iron was used to reinforce stone from the construction phase. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.