Cavers find mass fossil deposit Down Under

Jul 25, 2012
One of the world's largest stalagmites dominates the main chamber of the Cathedral Cave near Wellington in 2009. Australian scientists said Wednesday cavers had stumbled upon a vast network of tunnels containing fossils that could offer key insights into species' adaptation to climate change.

Australian scientists said Wednesday cavers had stumbled upon a vast network of tunnels containing fossils that could offer key insights into species' adaptation to climate change.

The limestone caves in Australia's far north contained what University of Queensland Gilbert Price described as a "fossil goldmine" of species ranging from minute rodents and frogs to giant kangaroos.

Once part of an ancient rainforest, the remote site now lies in arid grassland and Price said the fossilised remains could hold key clues about how the creatures had adapted to climate change and evolved to their current forms.

The caves' oldest specimens are estimated to be 500,000 years old. Price said they lived in a period of major aridification of central Australia and retreat of the rainforest that triggered a "formal ".

"What we're trying to do up here is really look at the fossils and look at the animals and see how they responded to those prehistoric climatic changes, and that's something that's really quite relevant to today," Price told AFP.

He said the caves could serve as an important benchmark to contrast modern relatives against, to understand how they had evolved.

"We've got the question of what the effect of modern is going to be on the organisms that we have around us, and the reality is we just don't know because we don't have any significant period of ecological sampling of the modern faunas," said Price.

"Just having an understanding of how they responded in the past is incredible, it's something that we can use and plug into models for conservation going into the future."

The smaller creatures were thought to have been carried into the cave by a predator such as an owl, while the larger ones, including a 2.2-metre (7.2-feet), 180-kilogram (396 pounds) mega , probably tumbled into it through a hole.

It is slow work, with access to the caves difficult and time-consuming. Price said it would take a year to work through the 120 kilograms of -rich sediment they had managed to carry out of the site on foot so far.

Local cavers had uncovered more tunnels in the past week alone, each producing "something of significance" and Price said there was "potentially many lifetimes worth of work in the area".

Explore further: Changing dinosaur tracks spurs novel approach

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Lessons learned from drought deaths 40,000 years ago

Nov 27, 2006

Drought-stricken Australia should heed a warning from a new study that shows a series of massive droughts killed giant kangaroos and other "megafauna" in south-east Queensland 40,000 years ago, according to ...

Australians find huge mega-wombat graveyard (Update)

Jun 21, 2012

Australian scientists Thursday unveiled the biggest-ever graveyard of an ancient rhino-sized mega-wombat called diprotodon, with the site potentially holding valuable clues on the species' extinction.

Research finds koalas are no dwarves

Dec 11, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Queensland research has found one of Australia's iconic animals is not a shadow of its former self.

Recommended for you

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

8 hours ago

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

8 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Birger
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2012
DNA sequencing! Some of the fossils should be possible to sequence, the Max Planck institute has a team that sequenced the Neanderthals.
The mega-kangaroo might even be a candidate for "Pleistocene park" :-)
Husky
5 / 5 (2) Jul 25, 2012
with a mega kangaroo i would fit in its bag and have green transportation
JGHunter
1 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2012
with a mega kangaroo i would fit in its bag and have green transportation


And a nice coating of slime!

Glad to see history is producing more jobs than the present huh.
Shifty0x88
not rated yet Jul 27, 2012
Wow, I wonder what else they found in there. I cannot believe no one had found the tunnels before though, wouldn't you want to explore and map out the cave when you found it?

Oh well, better late then never.

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Is Parkinson's an autoimmune disease?

The cause of neuronal death in Parkinson's disease is still unknown, but a new study proposes that neurons may be mistaken for foreign invaders and killed by the person's own immune system, similar to the ...