Thursday, 7 July 2011

Monster wombat bones discovered in Australia

It's as big as a four-wheel-drive and likes to eat plants, but the diprotodon discovered by palaeontologists this week was long dead - by at least about 55,000 years!

The diprotodon, about the size of a rhinoceros, was found on a remote cattle station in an area rich in the remains of prehistoric megafauna. The discovery of a virtually complete fossil makes it one of Australia’s most significant prehistoric discoveries.

"It was the biggest of them all – the biggest marsupial that ever lived on any continent," one of the researchers, Professor Sue Hand, a palaeontologist at the University of New South Wales, told Australian Geographic.

"It was a bit like a wombat but looked more like a massive, rhino-type beast ... We've found the skull and jaws, as well most of the rest of the skeleton. It's a really good specimen."

The plant-eating diprotodon roamed the country around 2.5 million years ago and became extinct about 55,000 years ago. Scientists believe the species died out because of the arrival of the first indigenous people or climate change, or a combination of the two.

The expedition is a joint project between UNSW, the University of Queensland, Queensland Museum and Xstrata.

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