Thursday, 7 July 2011

The 14 foot wombat: First complete skeleton of prehistoric monster found in Australia

The diprotodon weighed three tons and was 14ft long

It lived between 25,000 and two million years ago
By Richard Shears

It did not eat flesh, but whatever got in its way would have been trampled to death, scientists agreed today after the first complete skeleton of a prehistoric monster was found in Australia.

Known as a diprotodon and likened to a giant wombat, weighing three tons and stretching up to 14ft long, it roamed the Australian continent between 25,000 and two million years ago.

A reproduction of aboriginal rock art depicting a diprotodon. It was found in Northern Australia and is believed to be 10,000 years old

Reconstruction: The first complete skeleton of a prehistoric monster has been found by scientists in north-west Queensland, Australia

What is known, from a fragment of bone from the remains of another diprotodon discovered in New South Wales, is that these creatures lived on the continent at the same time as the early Aborigines

A small hole was found in that fragment, suggesting that the animal was brought down by a spear.

But that was just one bone and, until the latest discovery in north-west Queensland's Gulf of Carpentaria region, a complete skeleton had not been found.

'We hope we will now be able to reconstruct the bones, put them into their original positions, to give us a pretty good idea of what these creatures looked like,' said Professor Michael Archer of the Australian Museum, who has travelled to a cattle station where the skeleton was found.

Although artists have painted what scientists believe would be images of the diprotodon, the discovery of the complete skeleton will help in revealing more of the creature's shape and size.

'What we're seeing here is the biggest marsupial (an animal that carries its young in a pouch) that ever lived in the world - a three-ton monster,' said Professor Archer.

'This here in Queensland was its last stand, judging by the relatively undamaged complete skeleton.'

Professor Archer said it was unusual for all the bones of ancient creatures to be found in one place

'All the bones are not necessarily in their right position, but probably the whole skeleton of this giant is in this one spot where it fell maybe 50,000 years ago.

'There was just one little bone sticking out - and then we found the rest.'

Diprotodons were widespread across Australia when the first indigenous people arrived some 50,000 years ago from what is today South-East Asia.

The heavily-built animals fed on grasses but they might not have been too intelligent - although having an oversized skull, it was filled with numerous air spaces.

Until the Queensland discovery, the most complete specimen was found at Tambar Springs in New South Wales.

Scientists were excited to discover that on one rib there was a small square hole, believed to have been made by a spear while the bone was still fresh.

Now palaeontologists are hoping that more clues about the creature will be found in the newly-discovered Queensland bones.

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